Progress toward big promises: That was President Enrique Pena
Nieto's message this week in his first state of the union address.
Mr. Pena Nieto has had, in many ways, a strong start. A pact
signed by the three top political parties just a day after he took
office Dec. 1 has allowed him to pass much needed reforms that he
says will go on to make Mexico more competitive globally and
stimulate a sluggish economy.
An education reform and another that would increase competition
in the telecommunications industry, which is heavily dominated by a
single company, have won legislative approval. And progress has been
made on others, including one reform that would bolster access to
credit by small businesses. But observers say some of the most
contentious challenges lie ahead, especially energy and tax reform.
Yet the changes Pena Nieto has sponsored won't make visible
differences in Mexico's economy or day-to-day life overnight, even
if they succeed. While the president has garnered kudos
internationally and among Mexico's elite for proposing an economic
transformation, as he moves forward in his six-year tenure he will
need assure the Mexican population that their patience will pay off.
"One of the arguments for the reforms is that they are going to
have an impact on economic growth," says Carlos Bravo Regidor,
political science professor at Mexico's Center for Research and
Teaching in Economics (CIDE). "That may be true theoretically, but
it will take a long time."
Mexico's economy isn't growing as expected, and the country's
notorious drug violence hasn't faded. These issues consistently show
up at the top of polls of Mexicans' most pressing concerns. Pena
Nieto's approval rating after nine months in office stands at 56
percent, according to a survey by Consulta Mitofsky. That's worse
than his two predecessors at the same point in their tenures: Felipe
Calderon earned 66 percent approval and Vicente Fox 62 percent.
Protests - some violent - against education, energy, and tax
reforms broke out across the capital on Sunday. Teachers continue to
march against laws that define the education reform and have called
for a nationwide "day of insurrection" on Wednesday in at least 22
states and the capital.
Reform-mindedPena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party wants
to reform the energy sector, opening both the national oil monopoly
Petroleos Mexicanos and the state-controlled Federal Electricity
Commission to outside investment. They can likely count on the
support from the conservative opposition, the National Action Party.
But the leftist Democratic Revolution Party has said it will oppose
anything that smacks of privatization, putting in jeopardy the "Pact
for Mexico" that smoothed the legislative path for the earlier
Pena Nieto also wants to boost the state's ability to collect
taxes. It's a very tough sell in a lethargic economy. …