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Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)
Nearly two-thirds into his presidency, Enrique Peña Nieto is far more unpopular than either of his two predecessors. (Facebook)

Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was elected in July 2012 to great fanfare, so it was almost certain that his administration would fall well short of expectations.Mexico Flag Icon

In the leadup to that 2012 presidential election, Peña Nieto spent so many years as such a heavy frontrunner he was practically Mexico’s president-in-waiting. When he ultimately won the presidency by a margin of around 6.5%, it was less than polls predicted, but still the largest margin of victory in a presidential election since 1994. With movie star looks and a bona-fide star for a wife in Angélica Rivera, a model and telenovela actress, his victory was a triumph not only for himself, but for his party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party), which lost the presidency in 2000 after seven decades of consecutive rule in Mexico and that spent a difficult decade shut out of executive power at the national level. In Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico, with over 15 million people, by far the largest in the country and the surrounding state of Mexico’s central federal district.

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RELATED: For El Paso-Juárez,
Trump’s vision of Mexico based on misconception

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When he rose to the presidency, Peña Nieto was widely expected to do just two things as the face of what Mexican voters believed to be a reformed and a modernizing PRI.

First, Peña Nieto would enact a range of reforms liberalizing everything from Mexico’s energy sector to its tax collections scheme. Second, Peña Nieto would bring peace to a country roiled by drug violence, lethal competition among drug cartel and what seemed like an increasingly self-defeating militarized response to drug violence by Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderón, of the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN, National Action Party).

On both fronts, Peña Nieto fell short of expectations.

While Mexico might today be more becalmed than in 2012, violence and government incompetence have dominated headlines. Peña Nieto’s presidency will forever be marred by the abduction and assassination of 43 students in Iguala by police officers in Guerrero state in September 2014. The glory of his government’s capture in 2014 of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the leader of the infamous Sinaloa cartel, was soon eclipsed by his escape from a maximum-security prison in 2015, and Guzmán, recaptured seven months later, now faces extradition to the United States.

Peña Nieto’s presidency has been a mix of the good (significant political and economic reforms), the bad (corruption, impunity at the highest level of the PRI and his own administration and ineptitude in the face of cartel strength) and the ugly (the Iguala massacre).

By most measures, though, his performance has been far worse than many observers expected, with less impressive reforms than promised and a legacy of sporadic drug violence, police brutalization, personal conflict-of-interest scandals and continuing widespread corruption at all levels of government. That’s all on top of a Mexican economy struggling to deal with far lower global prices for oil and other commodities. It’s so bad that his approval rating sank earlier this month to just 23%, lower than any Mexican president since Ernesto Zedillo faced an acute peso crisis in the mid-1990s.

In the July 2015 midterm elections, the PRI lost nine seats in the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies), the lower house of the Mexican congress, and in the June 2016 gubernatorial elections, the PRI lost power in states it’s held since 1929 — including Veracruz, Tamaulipas Durango and Quintana Roo.

Just this week, as he prepares to deliver his state of the union address on Thursday, Peña Nieto has faced down embarrassing revelations that he plagiarized much of the thesis that he submitted for his law degree. Earlier this month, his wife faced fresh accusations of a new conflicts-of-interest scandal involving the use of a luxury apartment from a Mexican businessman in Miami.

So as the Mexican president prepares to welcome Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for an unexpected private meeting on Wednesday, it’s no understatement that Mexico’s beleaguered president could use a diversion. With his approval ratings so low, though, Trump presents an easy target. Continue reading Peña Nieto needs a Trump-sized confrontation to help his ailing presidency

PPK on track to win Peruvian presidency by a narrow margin

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski appears headed to a narrow victory in Peru's presidential race. (Facebook)
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski appears headed to a narrow victory in Peru’s presidential race. (Facebook)

For the second time in as many elections, it’s looking like Keiko Fujimori will narrowly lose a runoff to become Peru’s president.Peru Flag Icon

With nearly 93% of the results counted, Fujimori was trailing behind economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the 77-year-old former banker and International Monetary Fund official who served briefly as prime minister in the 2000s. Kuczynski, widely known across Peru by his initials, ‘PPK,’ was winning 50.32% of the vote to just 49.68% for Fujimori.

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RELATED: PPK has chance to unite anti-Fujimori voters in June runoff

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Though we do not know the exact results, and we might not know them until later today or this week, all signs point to a narrow victory for PPK, who placed third in the 2011 presidential election (behind Fujimori) and who trailed Fujimori by double digits in the initial April vote. Indeed, for years, the 2016 election seemed like it was Fujimori’s to lose. Kuczynski, an internationalist who seemed more at home in Washington, D.C. than in the Andean highlands, is not exactly a natural on the campaign trail. He took an incomprehensible break from the runoff campaign to visit New York (where he attended his daughter’s graducation, but where he also gave a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, feeding the hype that he’s not ‘authentically’ Peruvian).

I hope that Suffragio will feature a guest post on the Peruvian election later this week. But in the meanwhile, here are some quick thoughts on what a PPK victory would mean for Peru.  Continue reading PPK on track to win Peruvian presidency by a narrow margin

PPK has chance to unite anti-Fujimori voters in June runoff

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who narrowly fell short of the 2011 presidential runoff, could win Peru's presidency in July. (Facebook)
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who narrowly fell short of the 2011 presidential runoff, could win Peru’s presidency in July. (Facebook)

For Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, the hardest part of Peru’s two-stage presidential election might be making it into June’s runoff. Peru Flag Icon

It was no surprise that Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, a controversial figure now serving a prison sentence for human rights abuses during his time in office from 1990 to 2000, would win the first round of the election on Sunday.

Quick counts and initial results show that Fujimori, as predicted, easily won the first round with around 39.5% of the vote.

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RELATED: Fujimori’s daughter leads as
Peru faces June presidential runoff

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Kuczynski, nearly universally known as ‘PPK’ in Peru, was winning around 23.7% of the vote, enough to edge out the third-placed candidate, left-wing Verónika Mendoza, who was winning around 17.1% of the vote.

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The results all but assure that Kuczynski will emerge as Fujimori’s challenger in the June 5 runoff — a choice that many Peruvians wanted in the 2011 election.

Five years ago, it was leftist Ollanta Humala who won the first round, while Fujimori placed second, eliminating Kuczynski from the runoff in what many voters considered a worst-case scenario. On one hand, they could support a former army officer with a spotty military record and with ties to the radical left; on the other hand, the daughter of an anti-democratic authoritarian.

PPK’s apparent victory over Mendoza this year means that the 2016 runoff will be far less ideological than the 2011 runoff, instead featuring two candidates who espouse the kind of orthodox economic views that have dominated Peruvian governance since since the 1990s (even, perhaps surprisingly, during the Humala administration).

One of the central policies of Keiko Fujimori’s campaign has been a promise to use some of Peru’s $8 billion ‘rainy-day’ fund to stimulate spending on infrastructure and other projects to develop rural Peru. That means she will, on economic matters at least, be running to the left of PPK, who has called for budget discipline and pro-business policies that include a modest sales tax cut. Both candidates have signaled that they want to curb Peru’s growing coca production, and both candidates want to work to give local communities a greater share of profits from gold and copper mining that have boosted the Peruvian economy.

Polls show that the runoff will be competitive, despite Fujimori’s wide first-round victory. An average of four polls conducted in April before Sunday’s first-round voting gave Fujimori a statistically insignificant lead of 41.6% to 39.8%. Continue reading PPK has chance to unite anti-Fujimori voters in June runoff

Fujimori’s daughter leads as Peru faces June presidential runoff

Keiko Fujimori is set to win with ease the first round of Peru's presidential election on Sunday. (Facebook)
Keiko Fujimori is set to win with ease the first round of Peru’s presidential election on Sunday. (Facebook)

In 2011, Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa famously compared the choice his country’s electorate faced as a choice between AIDS and cancer.Peru Flag Icon

Five years later, one of those choices from that election, Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of Peru’s former authoritarian president (now serving in prison for corruption), now leads the country’s April 10 vote by double digits. Ollanta Humala, who defeated Fujimori five years ago, once feared as a militarist left-wing firebrand and a chavismo sympathizer, is leaving office widely derived and haunted by corruption, even after hewing to a middle-road path.

Though Humala will step down with as poor of an approval rating as his most recent predecessors, the biggest surprise of his presidency is that he ultimately chose to follow a center-right, business-friendly path in line with the past two decades of Peruvian governance. Humala will leave office, to the dismay of his one-time left-wing supporters, as a defender of neoliberal economics who stood, often with the force of Peru’s military, against striking workers and miners across the country. Though Humala himself is a former army officer, he failed to contain the growth of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a Maoist guerrilla operation that’s made modest gains in southern Peru over Humala’s administration, despite its near eradication a generation ago.

As of February, Humala has also been implicated in Brazil’s widening corruption inquiry, amid allegations from Brazilian police that Humala may have taken bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm. His wife, Nadine Heredia, who once harbored ambitions of succeeding Humala herself, is also under investigation for corruption.

It’s no wonder that, once again, in an election year, Peruvians are looking for a change.

A referendum on a father’s complex legacy

Fujimori, for her part, has positioned herself well since the last election. The frontrunner to win Sunday’s presidential, she is nevertheless unlikely to secure the presidency outright. More likely, Fujimori will face the second-placed candidate in a June 5 runoff.

Still, the prospect of an easy double-digit win for Fujimori spawned a wave of popular protest across the country this week, a sign of the tumult that might follow in the two-month runoff campaign as anti-Fujimori forces coalesce behind a single challenger. Nearly 30,000 flooded the streets of Lima, Peru’s capital, earlier this week in opposition to her candidacy. Protesters worry that a Fujimori victory (either now or in June) will restore the same authoritarianism and corruption that marked the decade of rule under her father, Alberto Fujimori, between 1990 and 2000.

Despite Keiko’s best efforts, the June runoff is likely to become a referendum on her father’s legacy.
Continue reading Fujimori’s daughter leads as Peru faces June presidential runoff