Winning on Anticorruption

Why Mexico Won’t Be the Next Brazil

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto speaks in Mexico City, September 2016. Carlos Jasso / Reuters

Mexico’s Independence Day, celebrated on September 16 every year, is normally a festive occasion. This year, though, it was dampened by an angry march in the capital demanding the resignation of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Now approaching his fifth and penultimate year in office, the president is suffering from an unprecedented decline in popularity, with only two out of ten Mexicans approving of his job performance.

There are many reasons for Peña Nieto’s unpopularity. One is security—recent statistics indicate worsening violence in several parts of the country, and the government appears to lack a coherent and sustainable security strategy. In many areas, Mexico’s violent criminal gangs still fight for control of the lucrative illegal trade in kidnapping, extortion, pipeline tapping, and drug trafficking. Economic growth has also proved to be a challenge: according to forecasts from Oxford Economics, GDP is expected to grow a mere 2.5 percent in 2017. Although such moderate growth is enviable compared with that of some other economies in the region, it is a far cry from the 5 percent promised at the beginning of Peña Nieto’s term, which was supposed to come after the passage of reforms in energy and telecommunications.

Yet perhaps no other problem has stoked public anger like corruption. Not only have Peña Nieto’s family and close associates been tainted by corruption allegations, but the regular emergence of new scandals throughout his time in office has fed the widespread perception that the problem is getting worse. The president has not helped matters by dismissing corruption as a “cultural phenomenon” that “exists at all orders and levels of society,” arguing that therefore “no one can hurl the first stone.” Peña Nieto’s party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has suffered accordingly: in state-level elections on June 5, the party had its worst electoral showing in history, when it lost seven out of the 12 governorships up for grabs. Many of those losses occurred, unsurprisingly, in states where local PRI

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