The Putinization of Mexico

MEXICO CITY – Prior to Mexico’s just-concluded presidential election, public disaffection with the state of affairs in the country was palpable. Mexicans from all walks of life seemed concerned about spiraling violence, anemic economic growth, and the lackluster rule of the National Action Party (PAN). With 60,000 people killed in the war on drugs, Mexicans – like Russians following the first chaotic years of democratic transition under Boris Yeltsin – opted for political regression, underpinned by nostalgia for rule by a firm, if corrupt, hand.

With democracy now associated with anarchy, chaos, and insecurity, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for seven decades until 2000, stood to benefit. The PRI promised to reestablish order and predictability, and to reduce the violence inflicted by the drug cartels, even if that means reaching a modus vivendi with them.

Mexicans responded accordingly, punishing the PAN for overseeing an economy that has grown only 1.5% per year on average over the last 12 years, as well as for a level of insecurity that Mexico has not witnessed since its revolution 100 years ago. But, perhaps most importantly, the PRI reaped the benefits of the best investment it has made in recent years: the permanent publicity campaign that turned its candidate and now President-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, into Mexico’s most popular political figure.

Peña Nieto is a product of the two television networks that groomed him for power and then propelled him to the presidency. The PRI’s political strategy was essentially the “golden boy” model: handsome face, cartloads of money, and the support of the television networks and Mexico’s dinosaur elite, which yearned for a return to power. In other words, Peña Nieto’s rise represents an alliance of oligarchs, vested monopolistic interests, the forces of order, and a population that has become disillusioned with electoral democracy.