Peña Nieto forced to halt Pact for Mexico reform process

Conservatives threaten to break consensus deal after president plays down vote-buying controversy

Enrique Peña Nieto (l) and Social Development Secretary Rosario Robles (c) welcome former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to Mexico on April 19.
Enrique Peña Nieto (l) and Social Development Secretary Rosario Robles (c) welcome former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to Mexico on April 19.Mexican presidency / AFP

After Mexico’s conservative party threatened to withdraw from a consensus pact it signed on with the government, President Enrique Peña Nieto on Tuesday canceled a scheduled presentation of his proposed bank reforms as he seeks “frank talks” with the opposition to keep the political contract from falling apart.

National Action Party (PAN) leader Gustavo Madero said Monday that he was suspending all of the agreements included in Peña Nieto’s Pact for Mexico policy pledge signed in December because of the president’s “unfortunate” position over a voting scandal that has surfaced in the state of Veracruz. According to the allegations, Veracruz officials promised more social aid to needy families if they voted for Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) during the July 7 elections.

Last week, Madero had demanded that Peña Nieto ask his social development secretary, Rosario Robles, and Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte, also of the PRI, to step down temporarily as the investigation continues. During a press conference, Madero presented 30 minutes of a recorded telephone conversation between Robles’ Sedesol department and Veracruz officials negotiating the alleged vote-buying scheme.

But Peña Nieto minimized the extent of the scandal and depicted Robles as the victim. “Rosario, don’t worry, you are going to have to ride it out because the criticisms have begun [from] those who busy themselves with politics and elections,” he said.

The president’s response last week in Chiapas angered Madero. “This is unfortunate, pathetic, and it was the worst answer we could have expected from the president,” the PAN leader told a radio interviewer, as he announced that he would not attend the government’s presentation on banking reforms.

The president provides protection for these election criminals"

The scandal and the subsequent threats by the conservatives have thrust Peña Nieto’s four-month old government into its first major political crisis. Just days after he was sworn in, the PRI, PAN and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) agreed to push through a packet of measures and reforms aimed at the overhauling of Mexican institutions, including modernizing the banking industry, social security and education.

The so-called Pact for Mexico is seen a major political milestone because it brought together Mexico’s bickering parties for the first time. But now its future is uncertain.

After Madero made his announcement, the PRD issued a statement also demanding stronger action from the government in the voting scandal. “The use of the National Crusade against Hunger for electoral purposes by the PRI government in Veracruz is evident… The president’s answer to these allegations is nothing more than a letter of impunity and protection for these election criminals,” the PRD said.

PRD leader Jesús Zambrano also said that “efforts were necessary to ensure that the Pact won’t fall apart,” adding that the main responsibility for maintaining unity falls on “the president and the federal government.”