By Michael WerzYesterday’s Mexican presidential elections mark the culmination of a tremendous comeback-story. Ousted after over seven decades in power in 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is back in control of “Los Pinos” and the Mexican government, determined to restore its image and broaden Mexico’s relationship with the United States.
The PRI had been a symbol of corporatism and entrenchment for decades, famously called the “perfect dictatorship,” for its grip of the Mexican economy and political stage. But the party has reinvented itself in recent years, eschewing its autocratic past and renouncing the party “dinosaurs” despised by many Mexicans. The PRI recorded a narrow victory with 38 percent of the vote on Sunday through a young candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, who had few ties to the old regime. The closer-than-expected result at the polls failed to give the PRI the strong electoral mandate and Congressional majority for which it had hoped, meaning Peña Nieto’s first term will be a time for cooperation, conciliation, and pragmatic politics. President-elect Peña Nieto promised as much in his unthreatening campaign, and his legacy will be measured against this pledge and his ability to check the older factions within the PRI.
The election offers reason for cautious optimism; it was free, fair, and enjoyed over 62 percent voter participation. The result showcases Mexico’s tremendous progress implementing democratic procedures, which have made it one of the most transparent electoral processes in the Hemisphere despite the ongoing violence surrounding the war on drugs.
The election also provides an opportunity for the next American administration. The central problem facing U.S.-Mexican relations is the large gap that remains in U.S. public perceptions of Mexico, which are too often a breathtakingly simplistic focus on drugs, migration, and an outdated belief in building walls. This narrow perspective ignores the two countries’ interdependence and important changes in Mexican society.