Mexico’s Pena Nieto takes power, begins new era for old ruling party

Updated 01 December 2012
0

Mexico’s Pena Nieto takes power, begins new era for old ruling party

MEXICO CITY: Enrique Pena Nieto took over as Mexican president yesterday, offering a shot at redemption for the party that shaped modern Mexico if he can bring about an end to years of violence and economic underperformance.
Returning the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to power after a 12-year hiatus, the 46-year-old Pena Nieto aims to use a recent improvement in the economy’s fortunes to spark faster growth.
Shortly after midnight at the national palace, outgoing President Felipe Calderon formally transferred power to his successor, handing over a red, white and green national flag to Pen a Nieto and saluting him.
“Today I begin to exercise the honorable office of president,” said Pena Nieto, who then swore in his top security ministers.
Pockets of protesters from leftist groups skirmished with police in riot gear in the capital hours later, some throwing Molotov cocktails at barriers near Congress in a bid to disrupt a swearing-in ceremony and inaugural address due later on Saturday morning.
Former State of Mexico governor Pena Nieto won the July 1 election with about 38 percent of the vote, more than 6 points ahead of second-placed leftist rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Telegenic and married to a popular actress, Pena Nieto promises to restore calm after more than 60,000 people were killed in violence between drug gangs and security forces during the six-year term of his conservative predecessor.
“Unfortunately, this has been something which has made or formed the image of Mexico in the world,” Pena Nieto said during a trip to Europe in October. “That’s why there’s no doubt dealing with lawlessness more effectively is a priority.” He says he is committed to the fight against organized crime, which dominated Calderon’s presidency, but has also stressed his main goal is to reduce the violence.
The new president’s right-hand man, Luis Videgaray, and close political ally Miguel Angel Osorio Chong will be the two key figures in his cabinet, running the finance and interior ministries respectively. Having helped shepherd a labor reform through Congress since his election victory, Pena Nieto now wants to pass legislation to strengthen Mexico’s tax base and allow more private investment in lumbering state oil giant Pemex.
If he is successful, the reforms could help spur stronger growth and create jobs, blunting the allure of organized crime.
Like many of Mexico’s best-known institutions, Pemex was a creation of the PRI, which ruled for 71 uninterrupted years until it was voted out in 2000. By then, the party had become a byword for corruption, cronyism and vote rigging.

Annual economic growth averaged less than 2 percent under the National Action Party, or PAN, over the past 12 years. That record and growing worries over the drug war violence opened the door for a PRI comeback under Pena Nieto.
Still, inflation has been kept in check, debt levels are low and growth picked up toward the end of Calderon’s term, with the economy outperforming Brazil’s in the past two years.
“Maintaining that stability is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the next government,” said Phillip Hendrix, 44, a Mexican businessman.
Pena Nieto’s inner circle features several ambitious young economists and financial experts eager to prove the PRI can do a better job of managing Latin America’s second-biggest economy.
For much of the PRI’s reign, Mexico enjoyed stronger growth than the PAN mustered, but memories of default on the country’s debts in 1982 and a financial crash in 1994 and 1995 still linger.
“It’s very hard to believe in the PRI. They bankrupted Mexico,” said construction worker Jose Luis Mendoza.
Supporting a family of four on 1,300 pesos ($100) a week, Mendoza, 29, said he was worse off now than when Calderon took office, and doubted his life would improve under Pena Nieto. “The cost of everything has gone up — but my wage hasn’t,” he said.
Pena Nieto has pledged to put more money in Mexicans’ pockets and shake up competition in a country where large swaths of the economy are concentrated in the hands of a few, like telecom billionaire Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man.
But Pena Nieto has been vague so far about how he plans to create a more level playing field, and pollster Jorge Buendia said it would be foolish to expect radical change.
“Pena Nieto’s not a reformist guy. He never has been,” Buendia said. “He’s an establishment guy and I don’t think he’s going to rock the establishment that much.”


Thai court grants bail to detained pro-democracy activists

Police have charged each activist with several offenses, including violating a ban on political assembly and obstructing officials. (AP)
Updated 3 min 23 sec ago
0

Thai court grants bail to detained pro-democracy activists

  • The activists were arrested Tuesday at a protest marking the anniversary of a 2014 military coup and calling for elections this year

BANGKOK: A court in Thailand granted bail Thursday to 15 pro-democracy activists who were arrested earlier this week during a protest against military rule at which several thousand police were deployed.
Krisadang Nutjaras, a lawyer for the student activists, told reporters they applied for bail after the court agreed to a police request for a further 12 days’ detention. It was set at 100,000 baht ($3,100) for each person, he said.
Police have charged each activist with several offenses, including violating a ban on political assembly and obstructing officials. They are required to report back to authorities in eight days and their bail is conditional on not participating in illegal political demonstrations.
The activists, who were arrested Tuesday at a protest marking the anniversary of a 2014 military coup and calling for elections this year, were applauded by supporters as they walked out of the Bangkok Criminal Court complex.
“Only barbaric countries say elections are illegal,” a 25-year-old protest leader, Rangsiman Rome, said outside the court. “Thank you everyone for coming. Today will not be the last day for our fight.”
Documents that police submitted to the court argued that bail should be denied because of the seriousness of the offenses. They also said they needed more time to complete their investigation.
Krisadang accused police of filing “excessive charges” against the protesters. He also criticized the court for refusing to hear counterarguments when it considered the request for detention to be extended.
“We never got a chance to present our reasoning to show the court that the kids are people who love democracy,” he said. “If in our country people use their rights to ask for democracy and get arrested and deemed traitors that cause havoc, there is not much hope left.”
Tuesday’s protest drew about 200 demonstrators but was met with an overwhelming security response. More than 3,000 officers were deployed to prevent the activists from marching from a Bangkok university campus to Government House.
The protesters, mainly middle-aged and elderly people led by a core of student activists, have been holding regular rallies for the last few months, calling for the junta to resign. Political gatherings of five or more people are banned by the military government.