Focus: Diplomacy & Politics

Return of the PRI

Return of the PRI

Jul. 10, 2013

President Peña Nieto is looking to establish himself as a competent leader and stand true to his promises of reform and change, while also dealing with domestic threats and broadening the country's trading partners.

The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a single six-year term, with the last being in July 2012, and may not hold office a second time. The constitution empowers the president to select a cabinet and also to appoint high-ranking officials of the state such as the attorney general, ambassadors, military officers, and the justices of the Supreme Court. The president also enjoys the power to issue decrees that have the effect of law. The government is made up of three main branches: the Executive, the Judicial, and the Legislative. For most of Mexico's modern history, the president exercised greater control of the governmental system than the other two branches, especially during most of the 20th century when Mexico was effectively a one-party state. Congress has played an increasingly important role since 1997, when opposition parties first made major gains.

The country derives its governmental structure from the constitution adopted during the Mexican revolution in 1917, which delineates the separation of powers between the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. According to the Constitution, national sovereignty lies with the people of Mexico, who are also constitutionally guaranteed a set of personal freedoms and civil liberties.

Mexico's Legislative branch, or Congress of the Union, is divided into the Senate, which composes the upper house, and the Chamber of Deputies, which forms the lower house. Members of the Senate are elected for a term of six years, while those in the Chamber of Deputies are elected for three. Members of both houses are barred from seeking reelection for the immediate succeeding term. In order to participate in the apportionment of proportional seats in the Chamber of Deputies, a political party must field candidates in at least 200 single-member districts and receive at least 2% of the total number of votes cast for proportional lists, including invalid ballots. However, no political party may receive more than 300 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and generally speaking no party can be awarded a proportion of Chamber seats exceeding its nationwide vote proportion by more than eight percentage points. The Chamber consists of 500 representatives of the nation in total.

The Judiciary is divided into Federal and State court systems, with Federal courts having jurisdiction over most civil cases and some major felonies. Under the Constitution, trial and sentencing must be completed within 12 months of arrest for crimes that carry at least a two-year sentence. Mexicans have the right to an oral adversarial justice system, where defendants have access to counsel and public defenders are available. Other rights include defense against self-incrimination, the right to confront one's accusers, and the right to a public trial. Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate.

The Federal Republic of Mexico is comprised of 31 states and a Federal District, which is the seat of the federal government. Each of the federal states is administratively divided into several municipalities that form the basis of local government. The governors of the Mexican states are selected by general election, and the tenure of local government lasts for six years at maximum. The president can dissolve the operation of the Mexican local governments with prior endorsement from the Senate. The state governments are dependent on the central government for all types of publicly funded activities.

TIME FOR CHANGE

Since President Peña Nieto came into power, he has been working at a rapid pace to live up to his promises of reform and change. The aims of his reforms are to strengthen the long-standing structural weaknesses of the government and the market at large. The major plan to tackle these issues is the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico). Over his six-year term, the President is hoping to implement 95 separate reforms revolving around three central themes: strengthening Mexico's economy, political and economic democratization, and citizen participation and social rights. This is no small challenge, but in December 2012, shortly after Peña Nieto was inaugurated, he reached across the aisle to the two main opposition parties, PAN and PRD, and asked for their cooperation in the signing of the Pact for Mexico. There are estimates that if the Pact is successful it could bring annual GDP growth of 6%. The reforms aim to tackle issues in the education and ICT sectors, among many others. Education reform, for example, aims to bring back some of the power to the government when it comes to the hiring and firing of teaching staff. In the ICT sector, the government wants to break the hold that some of the large companies have over the sector and encourage competition from small companies.

President Peña Nieto has also introduced a new police unit called the Gendarmerie to help in the so-called “War on Drugs." It is based on units that already exist in countries such as Italy, Turkey, and Spain. The new unit is a more heavily armed and specialized branch than the regular police force, which will deal with domestic threats. The idea of this new branch is to relieve the military in the War on Drugs, which was deployed onto the streets by the previous government. Peña Nieto is heading down a more popular route in this war by, instead of fighting the cartels head on with the military like his predecessor, strengthening the police and judicial system against corruption. The Gendarmerie will play a major new role in this plan, as it will be largely filled with highly trained and specialized personnel, often ex-military.

FOREIGN FRIENDS

The new government is trying to establish economic growth as its main priority, and to do this international partnerships are vital. Historically, the Mexican economy has been largely tied to the US, and when it experiences problems the knock-on effect is felt in Mexico. However, Peña Nieto is trying to diversify its trading partners. “Mexico has 13 trade agreements in force, giving us privileged access to 44 different countries," José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, told TBY. In 2012, foreign trade for the country amounted to $740 billion, which accounts for almost two-thirds of Mexico's GDP. This is not all down to the new government; this is the work of 20 years of a gradual movement away from an economy dependent on its oil revenues to an open market where 80% of exports are manufactured goods. Peña Nieto's government is planning on following in this trend and is currently negotiating FTAs with Chile, Colombia, and Peru within the Pacific Alliance. This Alliance, of which Mexico is a founding member, was set up in June 2012 to promote economic trade, integration, and diplomatic ties between the member states. “Mexico has always been a strong advocate of international institutions as facilitators of global dialogue," said Meade Kuribreña while discussing the reason behind Mexico's involvement in international organizations. Mexico was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2009-2010, while also hosting various conferences including the UN Climate Change Conference in 2010 and the G20 Chairmanship in 2012.

There is a new wave of optimism sweeping over Mexico as it begins to believe that it can build a strong and healthy economy that is not reliant on its natural resources, but on value-added products manufactured in the country. With a new government that is determined to bring in reform to improve market conditions, as well as adopt new tactics in the War on Drugs, the future could well be improved for Mexico.

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