Old political party returns to govern changed Mexico

Updated 30 November 2012
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Old political party returns to govern changed Mexico

MEXICO CITY: The political party that ruled Mexico for seven straight decades is back, assuring Mexicans there’s no chance of a return to what some called “the perfect dictatorship” that was marked by a mixture of populist handouts, rigged votes and occasional bloodshed.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, reclaims the presidency today after 12 years out of power, and President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto calls it a crowning moment of an effort to reform and modernize the party that ruled without interruption from 1929 to 2000.
He promises an agenda of free enterprise, efficiency and accountability. He’s pushing for reforms that could bring major new private investment in Mexico’s crucial but creaking state-owned oil industry, changes that have been blocked for decades by nationalist suspicion of foreign meddling in the oil business.
PRI leaders acknowledge the party is returning to power in a Mexico radically different from what it was in the party’s heyday. The nation has an open, market-oriented economy, a freer, more aggressive press, an opposition that can communicate at the speed of the Internet and a population that knows the PRI can be kicked out of power.
“The skeptics say that the PRI will return to the past, as if such a thing were possible,” PRI leader Pedro Joaquin Coldwell told a party gathering earlier this month. “It’s not, because this is a different country.”
Yet critics already see hints of a yearning for the old days of an imperial presidency in some of the measures the PRI is pushing through Congress. A bill proposed by Pena Nieto would gather the police and security apparatus under the control of the Interior Department, an office long used by the PRI to co-opt or pressure opponents, rig elections and strong-arm the media.
PRI leaders say the measure would unify a fractured security apparatus and produce a more coordinated strategy in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels.
Political analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio says a return to the old ways is unlikely, noting there are now independent electoral authorities, judges and rights groups to help keep authorities in line. “I don’t think they’ll try to restore the old regime, like we saw in the 1970s,” he said.
But Alejandro Sanchez, the assistant leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, warns of an attempt “to return to the authoritarian regime of the 1970s, when torture, contempt for opponents and impunity were the norm.” The PRI no longer holds a majority in Congress, so it will probably have to negotiate more.
PRI members in Congress, who include several autocratic labor leaders, this month successfully maneuvered to block a measure that would have required secret ballots in union elections and approval by union members of proposed contracts.
The PRI also supported a bill that would give federal and state auditors more authority to block spending by state governors, who currently face little fiscal oversight. That may help curb the unchecked power governors have acquired since the PRI lost power, but some critics see the measure as a bid to return to the days when presidents controlled the states from Mexico City.
Another PRI proposal would restore the president’s ability to hire and fire hundreds of mid-level government officials at will, removing the posts from civil service protections. Sen. Javier Corral of the National Action Party, which has held the presidency for 12 years, said the PRI “wants to bring back the old custom that has done so much damage in Mexico, of treating power as booty, and giving out these jobs according to the party’s criteria.”
The PRI was widely seen as an able if autocratic party from 1929 to the mid-1960s, with strong economic growth and government hand-out programs balancing the corruption and lack of truly free elections.

But repeated harsh crackdowns on unions, students and other protesters inspired opposition movements in the 1960s and 1970s, and economic mismanagement and graft fed rampant inflation and led to recurring economic crises that repeatedly slammed the middle class in the regime’s final quarter-century in power.
“We have learned from the mistakes we made,” Coldwell, the PRI’s leader, told a local radio station. “The people have given us a chance, and we have to be very conscious of the fact that if we don’t do well, they won’t give us a third chance.”
In fact, the PRI had already begun changing in the 1980s. Stung by public outrage over some of the economic messes it had made, the party oversaw the privatization of inefficient state-owned industries that were once vast reservoirs of patronage jobs. It gradually allowed electoral reforms that finally gave opponents a chance to win elections.
During its time in power, the conservative National Action Party tried to lend a more informal air to the presidency. The office also became weaker in the face of the rising independence of the Supreme Court as well as state governors, many from opposition parties who owed no allegiance to the president. Opposition also increased in Congress.
Ruben Aguilar, who was a spokesman for then President Vicente Fox, the National Action candidate who defeated the PRI in 2000, said he’s willing to give the PRI “the benefit of the doubt,” in part because the party is known for pragmatism. It never had much ideology beyond keeping itself in power, and returning to old abuses could be suicidal.
“If they tried to return to the old ways, it would be very clumsy, very shortsighted,” Aguilar said.
Some things are clearly gone forever, such as the PRI’s role as “daddy government,” handing out state-built housing and jobs at state-owned enterprises. The government firms have been privatized and the oil-fattened government budgets have shrunk.
Instead, Pena Nieto aims to fulfill his main promise, to create more jobs and boost economic growth, by going even further in developing the private sector. He also pledges to preserve the main achievement of the two National Action Party presidents: responsible government finances and macro-economic stability.
The PRI was never a classic, bloodthirsty dictatorship. It often bought off enemies and pardoned when it could.
When students at the national university pelted President Luis Echeverria with rocks in 1975, blaming him for ordering the shooting of student protesters seven years before, Echeverria simply left the campus.
While Echeverria imprisoned leftist rebels or allowed them to vanish in the maw of the security system, his successor pardoned those who remained jailed, giving rise to a generation of opposition politicians.
Many Mexicans retain a cynical fondness for the old party’s populism, as reflected in one old saying that translates roughly: “They stole, but at least they let others get what they dropped.”
Some expect a comeback of the PRI political style that combined a devotion to high-flown rhetoric, strict obedience among party members and an unquestioned respect for the authority of the president.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of the old informal rules come back,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Washington-based Mexico Institute.
He noted PRI members show tight party discipline and try to keep political disputes behind closed doors. That could reinforce the PRI’s claim that it knows how to govern efficiently, unlike the two National Action presidents, who at times seemed to flounder.
The PRI’s discipline is enshrined in another old saying. Counseling against jostling for political position, late PRI union boss Fidel Velazquez counseled, “He who moves around doesn’t show up in the photo.”


With 10-year visa, UAE could be new land of opportunity for Indians

Routine day at Dubai International Airport. AN photo
Updated 9 min 28 sec ago
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With 10-year visa, UAE could be new land of opportunity for Indians

  • The ruler of Dubai changed rules to allow foreign investors to fully own companies
  • The Indian banking sector is far more developed in terms of product, technology and the caliber of professionals

NEW DELHI: Indians are likely to “flood” the UAE once its recently announced residency visa rules for students and highly qualified professionals come into place, experts said Tuesday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, vice president and the prime minister of the UAE, announced on Sunday a 10-year visa for investors, scientists, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as their families.
 As part of the changes, students will get five-year visas and “exceptional” graduates will be eligible for a 10-year visa.  Students currently have to apply to renew their visa each year.
The ruler of Dubai also changed rules to allow foreign investors to fully own companies. So far companies have been required to have a local partner who would hold the majority stake.
 The changes are expected to kick in during the third quarter of this year.
 “The UAE has always welcomed, and always will, innovators and business leaders,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted as he announced the new rules.
 The UAE, with its proximity to India, high salaries and low taxes, has always been a magnet for Indians. It is home to about 2.6 million Indians who make up roughly 30 percent of the country’s population, according to the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi. These numbers are expected to shoot up once the new rules apply.
 “Indians are always looking at new work opportunities anywhere in the world,” said Aradhana Mahna, managing director of Manya Education, a study abroad solutions provider in Delhi.  While the US and the UK have historically been avenues for Indian students looking to study abroad, the number of students applying to those countries have undergone a “sharp decline” since the election of US President Donald Trump — who made protectionist comments during his campaign days and since taking office — and since the UK decided to split with the European Union, Mahna said.
 “Dubai is close to home and that has always made it a preferred destination for Indians. Especially now with the US going down, it will be flooded by Indians,” she added.
Mukesh Bhasin, partner at Career Connect, an executive search firm that focuses on banking, financial services and the insurance sector (BFSI), agreed that the new rules would go a long way in attracting Indian talent.
 “The Indian banking sector is far more developed in terms of product, technology and the caliber of professionals,” he said. “The encouraging visa regime will lead to a lot of interest from Indian BFSI professionals toward Middle East opportunities given the already-existing tax benefits and international-quality lifestyle.”
 Since the collapse in 2008 of Lehman Brothers, most developed markets, including neighboring Singapore and Hong Kong, have cut back on the number of people they are hiring from abroad for their domestic operations. This includes a slowdown in foreign transfers for Indian employees of multinational banks, said Bhasin.