Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

President Enrique Pena Nieto's Surgical Procedure Reignites Debate over Presidential Succession

Magazine article SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico

President Enrique Pena Nieto's Surgical Procedure Reignites Debate over Presidential Succession

Article excerpt

The discussion on whether Mexico should develop an emergency presidential-succession plan in case something happens to the chief executive resurfaced at the end of July when President Enrique Pena Nieto underwent surgery. The last time that the issue became a major topic of public discussion was in 2003, when then President Vicente Fox announced he would undergo surgery to correct a pinched nerve in his back (SourceMex, March 26, 2003). Mexico has no vice president.

Pena Nieto's surgery, performed at the Hospital Central Militar in Mexico City, involved removing a nodule from the president's thyroid. The procedure took less than two hours and was considered routine and fairly minor. "The diagnosis shows no evidence of malignancy," said Brig. Gen. Juan Felipe Sanchez, the doctor who headed the surgical team.

A presidential spokesperson also said that an earlier biopsy had shown no evidence of cancer in the president's thyroid.

Even though this was a minor surgery, the presidential team attempted to reassure the Mexican public that everything was okay. "Even though the surgery took about two hours and required general anesthesia, there was an attempt to minimize the procedure," Raul Contreras Bustamante wrote in a guest column in the Mexico City daily newspaper Excelsior. "Two hours after the surgery was concluded, Enrique Pena Nieto's Twitter account was reporting that he was well and recovering in his room."

Still, having Mexico's chief executive out of commission for a short period reignited the debate on whether Mexico should set up a better plan for presidential succession.

"The government's actions are logical, given that the administration has to send out signals to keep the citizens calm," said Contreras Bustamante, a constitutional expert at the School of Law at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). "But this development demonstrates that we still have legislative deficiencies to deal with possible contingencies."

A public-opinion poll by the polling organization Opinion Publica Marketing e Imagen found a public divided on whether the political structure should be changed to allow another official to take over the presidency immediately. In a poll conducted among 400 men and women, 32% agreed with the need for an emergency appointee, while 42% said such a move was not necessary. Another 13% were uncertain, and 14% declined to answer.

"We consider that Mexico's laws, in fact have a big gap in not providing for an immediate substitution," said the online news and opinion site La Otra Opinion, which carried the results of the poll. "Nevertheless, it is also true that this particular situation did not require the absence of the president and did not merit the implementation of an emergency measure."

Problems remain, even after 2012 reforms

There was an effort last year to address the problem with a series of constitutional reforms. Under constitutional changes enacted in August 2012, the Congress is empowered give the president a leave of 60 days and then ratify the interior secretary as interim president. …

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