Peña fiddles merry tune while opposition burns

Pena fiddlesMexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is a busy fella with a lot on his mind.  On one hand he’s struggling to create economic growth domestically with a world economy that just can’t get off the shneid, and on the other, the state of Michoacan has been taken over by gangs of gun-toting farmers.  Not good.  So it’s got to come as a relief to Mr. Peña that he doesn’t have to worry about undermining opposition political parties, because that task has been embraced with zeal by the opposition parties themselves.  It is a moment when they could be rallying the troops to put all their strength into blocking the president’s ambitious reform drive, or at least wringing some concessions out of the ruling PRI.  But instead, they are tearing themselves limb from limb, leaving Peña to ask, à la Ed Koch, “How’m I doin’?”

The second largest political force in Congress, the conservative National Action Party (PAN), is currently locked in a bitter struggle over control of the party.  In the leadership election set for May 18, current party president on leave Gustavo Madero faces Senator Ernesto Cordero in a matchup that has riven the PAN between backers of the two candidates.  Madero is considered to be more supportive of a close alliance with the ruling PRI, and he has made a number of moves to undermine Cordero’s influence, including removing Cordero himself from his postition as PAN Senate caucus coordinator.  Cordero, for his part, has relentlessly slung muck to besmirch the patrician Madero, and he has had no shortage of ammunition.

Before finally coming to power in 2000, the PAN made a long career out of accusing the PRI of corruption.  Now, following 12 years of PAN rule that were interrupted by Mr. Peña’s election in 2012, the party of busines and religious interests is saddled with some unsightly scandals of its own.  In recent months allegations by city mayors have emerged accusing at least one PAN Congressional leader of requiring kickbacks called moches (a humorous term that might loosely be translated as “fork-it-overs”) in exchange for allotting federal resources for public works.  More recently the moches have been eclipsed in the media by the Oceanografía scandal, which involves hundreds of millions of dollars in allegedly fraudulent financing for a favored contractor to national oil monopoly Pemex under the previous two PAN governments.  Instead of helping his fellows to circle the wagons in defense of the party, Mr. Cordero is loudly calling for investigations with the hope that they sully Mr. Madero’s record in the run-up to the leadership election.

Meanwhile, on the left, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its fellow travelers have mostly managed to avoid the corruption issue but are equally mired in problems of their own making.  Since the PRD’s long, slow-motion breakup with its two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was consummated in 2012, the two sides have put more effort into sniping at each other than in coalition-building.  AMLO’s nationalism-focused Morena movement continues to reject overtures from the PRD, which it accuses of sleeping with the enemy for the PRD’s participation in President Peña’s “Pact for Mexico” legislative cooperation alliance.  In disarray, the left was absolutely trod upon by Peña’s troops in Congress as they bulldozed their way to approval of the historic energy reform in December 2013.

PRD President Jesus Zambrano’s term ends this month, and party poobahs are laboring to avoid fireworks as they debate whether an interim leader will be chosen or Zambrano will be granted a temporary extension before a new leadership council is chosen in July.  The council will then, in turn, establish rules for selection of a new party president, so for the moment there is no clear direction.  Members of some of the party’s factions, or “tribes” as they are called locally, are working to build broad support to coalesce around party founder and supreme elder Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas as a consensus leader, in order to avoid a debilitating internacine struggle.  No such sentiment is shared by aspiring candidates such as ex-Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who is backed by his own “Progressive Movement,” or former Senator Carlos Sotelo, standard-bearer for the tribes Social Democracy, Social Left and National Leftist Unity.  At this writing, a lot of petulant shouting is going on and the issue remains unresolved. Ebrard, as well, is now dealing with additional  tsuris in the form of the breakdown and closing of Mexico City’s metro line 12, one of his administration’s largest public works projects.  The high degree of incompetence and disorganization emerging from an investigation into the massive cock-up threatens to derail the former mayor’s presidential ambitions.

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