Uncertainty involves the game that starts today at 2:45pm EST. My wife pointed out to me that my mother is probably spinning in her grave right now, considering her lack of attachment to the madre patria. (In a European competition, she would be have been more likely to root for the Netherlands than the land of our ancestors.) Me, on the other hand, I revel in the victories won by our distant cousins!
Of course, everyone in America who doesn’t think I’m Puerto Rican thinks I’m Italian-American. (Which, to be brutally frank, I am, if we abstract away from such technicalities as my ancestry.) And how could I not like the pair of Balotelli and Buffon? But I think the furia roja is equipped to keep Pirlo in a box ... and we have Llorente (from Navarra, where my grandfather was born!) and Soldado. Plus, Casillas is an awesome goalie, and Iniesta an awesome striker. (Yes, I know he plays midfield.)
It’ll be a great game no matter what, unless the two sides resort to a defensive fallback like Spain’s last game or that miserable Italy-England soccer Stalingrad. I want the furia roja to win, but it matters not.
Today’s election in Mexico, unlike the soccer match, involves almost no uncertainty at all about the result. Enrique Peña Nieto is going to win. The polls are unanimous on that point. On the other hand, there is a great deal of uncertainty about whether it matters. From looking at campaign ads, it all seems pretty inane.
But it is not inane. How much is at stake hinges on three known unknowns:
- What does Peña Nieto want?
- What power will he have to accomplish (1) above?
- What will be the consequences of the subset of (1) and (2)?
Gabriel Aguilera summed up well the dilemma of question (1): does Peña Nieto want to be a great Mexican president, or does he want to be a great Priísta? That is, does he want to leave his country in better shape regardless of the consequences to his party, or does he want to leave his party more powerful regardless of the consequences to his country?
Of course, it isn’t really a dilemma but a continuum ... and sometimes, as it took the Obama administration way too damn long to learn, good policy is good politics. But that aside, the above really is the first question.
Here is a good essay on just how bad it could be if Peña wants to be a great Priísta. Jeffrey Weldon thinks that is his aim. The Economist does not. The writer of this graffiti disagrees with the Economist.
And then there is question (2). The Mexican president, unlike his or her Argentine counterpart, really is a weak figure. Now, that is not true when seen from the North: they have two advantages over their U.S. counterparts and one advantage over their Democratic U.S. counterparts. First, only one two executive positions requires congressional approval: the attorney-general and the treasury secretary. Second, the Senate of Mexico has no filibuster and no holds and none of the other insanity that has accumulated around the Senate of America. In addition, the entire Mexican senate is elected at the same time as the President, which makes it more likely for the President to have a majority, as does the presence of the electoral list senators. Finally, Mexican parties are generally more disciplined than the Democratic Party, although not as disciplined as the Republicans.
(For a description of the Mexican Senate, see here. For those bothered by my use of “America” to mean the United States, go away.)
That said, the Mexican president is nonetheless weak as American presidents go. (For those bothered by the above use of “America” to mean the entire Western Hemisphere, go away. Consistency, hobgoblins, all that.) He or she has no true decree power, and cannot introduce bills into the legislature nor command the legislative agenda. On the margin the Mexican presidency is slightly more powerful than the president of the U.S. of A., but rather less so than most other presidents in this hemisphere. Therefore ...
... It will matter a lot whether the PRI has a congressional majority.
The wrinkle is that the PRI has lost a lot of its national discipline: the Priístas I spoke to over the past week have told me that the party has evolved into a series of state-level fiefdoms, where the governor effectively chooses the congressional candidates, and machines are perpetuated by having the governor switch offices with senators and deputies and then switch back. That means that the congressional PRI will want President Peña to be a great Priísta, and not necessarily a great President. In such a world it might be better for President Peña to lack a PRI majority.
As long as the PAN and PRD decide that they will not be served by a GOP-like strategy of automatic opposition (and I suspect that they will not be so served), a Peña who wants to serve his country could build cross-party majorities. Remember, Mexico has no filibuster; its Senate (unlike ours) functions as an ordinary legislature. In short, it will be good if the PRI does well in Congress, but not quite well enough to secure a majority in both houses.
Finally, there is question (3). The problem with it is that there is no way to tell until we have the answer to questions (1) and (2). In the field of security policy, I am with Patrick Corcoran (see part one and part two): there is unlikely to be much change. But in economic policy, there could be; ditto in political reform.
I will discuss more later about what I think the answers are to the above questions. Right now, I just want to say that every Mexican needs to answer (1), (2), and (3) for themselves, and then go out and vote. After which, root for the madre patria!
UPDATE: I was incorrectly informed that Article 71 of the Mexican constitution had been reformed to remove the Presidential power to introduce bill directly into Congress. That is incorrect. The President of Mexico, unlike his or her American equivalent, can send legislative proposals directly to committee. He or she cannot, however, force them to the top of the agenda in the manner of most other Latin American presidents.