Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 4/30/2012
The Wall Street Journal publishes an interview with Enrique Pena Nieto’s campaign chief, while Andrés Manuel López Obrador talks security in Monterrey and a new Reforma poll suggests the race may be closer than the conventional wisdom indicates.
The Wall Street Journal published an extensive interview on April 27 with presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign chief, Luis Videgaray. The pragmatic and highly influential MIT-trained economist sheds light on the economic policy agenda of the candidate that polls suggest might be the next Mexican president. Videgaray, 43, has been a close advisor of Peña Nieto for eight years and is widely expected to be named finance minister if the PRI candidate wins the July 1 election. Peña Nieto surprised Wall Street investors late last year when he arrived for meetings with Videgaray as his only entourage. His sway on Peña Nieto’s policies is extensive: as one top PRI official joked, “Peña [Nieto] has four important advisers: Videgaray, Videgaray, Videgaray and Videgaray.” The Wall Street journal covered part of what this agenda might entail.
Energy and the economy
Videgaray says that Peña Nieto wants to move quickly to amend the constitution to allow some private participation in the state-owned oil company, Pemex. He believes private companies should be included in exploration, production, and refining. While many analysts suggest this reform is long overdue- the 2008 energy reform has had a limited impact- it is ironic for a PRI candidate to promote it. The PRI nationalized the oil sector in 1938 and interlinked oil, nationalism, and sovereignty throughout its seven decade rule of Mexican politics. Videgaray argues that “it’s time for us to get rid of these ideological straitjackets.”
His views, however, are not entirely free-market either. With Brazil as an example, he would like to expand lending to Mexican consumers and businesses by using Mexico’s state development bank as a tool for economic growth, for example. As Guillermo Ortiz, a former finance minister and head of Mexico’s central bank, told the newspaper, Videgaray “combines the private sector with public sector, and the economist with the politician.” His supporters and critics alike agree that his views are more pragmatic than ideological.
Managing the PRI’s divisions
On the later point, Videgaray has extensive political experience in addition to his impressive academic background of a doctorate in economics from MIT and seven years’ experience at Mexican investment bank Protego. Some believe his success in political negotiations stems from the fact that, as a relative outsider in the party, he is not beholden to particular factions. As such, according to MIT colleague and security consultant Alberto Islas, Videgaray would likely focus on keeping the PRI’s various factions in check in a Peña Nieto administration. According to Islas: “If the Peña [Nieto] government is going to be a success, then it’s going to be thanks to the extent to which Videgaray can succeed, not just in passing reforms but keeping the PRI’s vested interests in check.”
Islas adds: “His track record so far is good.”
PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador focused on security during a visit to Monterrey on April 22. He promised a visit every two weeks with his security cabinet if elected to check on the security situation. He argued that insecurity is an everyday threat for residents and should be considered on a daily basis by their leaders.
Mexico Institute Senior Advisor Andrew Selee commented on Reforma newspaper’s April 25 poll, showing Vaquez Mota is a better position that other recent polls indicate:
The distance between Peña Nieto (PRI, 42%) and his two rivals may be less than often thought. He is still 13 points above Vázquez Mota (PAN, 29%) and 15 points above López Obrador (PRD, 27%) – which is no small difference – but this is less of a lead than other polls have shown. It also shows that the congressional race seems right on the threshhold that would give the PRI a majority in Congress (for which they need 42% of the congressional vote).
Perhaps equally important, a full quarter of the voters have not made up their mind and 15% may still change their opinion, a significant swing vote if anything emerges to shift the campaign narrative. Finally, López Obrador is clearly on an upswing, while Vázquez Mota appears to be declining slightly in support.
The conventional wisdom is not necessarily wrong. Peña Nieto is still ahead by a significant margin, Vázquez Mota is in second place, and López Obrador is in third, but there appears to be far more fluidity in this election than we have thought in the past.