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Peña Nieto to mark new cycle in Mexican history

November 29, 2012

The Maya of ancient Mexico believed time is cyclical; contrary to the hype surrounding their supposed prophecy of impending armageddon, many historians believe that December 2012 simply marks the end of one cycle in the Mayan calendar and the beginning of another.

It is fitting then, that this will be the month that Mexican history rolls both forward and backward at once. After a 12-year hiatus, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will reclaim power on Saturday, December 1, when Enrique Peña Nieto is sworn in as president.

The fresh face of a party still intrinsically linked to an authoritarian age of political dinosaurs, Peña Nieto won 38 percent of the vote, beating his closest rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador by a margin of around three million votes.

Having ruled Mexico for 71 uninterrupted years until the turn of the century, the PRI lost successive elections to National Action Party (PAN) candidates Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon in 2000 and 2006.

This was considered a major turning point in the nation’s history. Yet Mexico’s nascent democracy has struggled, with the 2006 and 2012 elections both marred by allegations of voting fraud.

The PRI appeared fatally wounded in 2000, but now voters have surrendered their country to the ghosts of the past, like a damaged spouse returning to her abusive ex.

Fox and Calderon must shoulder much of the blame for failing to convince Mexico that their pro-business party offered an improvement on the ways of old.

Above all else, two overriding factors explain why the PAN fell from first to third in the polls over the last six years: inequality and insecurity.

Despite the country’s steady but unspectacular economic growth under Calderon, inequality has also risen, with more than half of Mexicans now living in poverty. A lack of opportunities for those at the bottom has in turn fueled the violence in Mexico, as the poorest are driven to a life of crime in order to make ends meet.

Some 60,000 were slain during Calderon’s six-year war on drug trafficking. But for every capo felled by the government, new rivals sprung up in their place, ever-more savage in their lust for power.

In this context, Mexico’s left could and perhaps should have benefited from the failings of the conservative PAN, but Lopez Obrador was unable to find a message attractive enough for voters to put aside their reservations over his divisive persona. Liberals will now be looking to outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard in the hope that he provides a more modern and appealing candidacy in 2018.

In the meantime, the PRI will reassert its control over Mexico. Only now will we find out what the still-enigmatic Peña Nieto has in store for the country. Only now will we find out if the next cycle in the Mayan calendar sees Mexican history move forward or backward.

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