The victory of Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexicos presidential race hands power to a fresh but untested political leader who faces a variety of daunting challenges, none more serious than the battle against narcotics traffickers that has claimed more than 50,000 lives in six years and shows no signs of abating.
With the exception of the race for the White House, perhaps no election is more important for the United States this year than the presidential contest in Mexico. Its position along the U.S. southern border and the interdependence of the two countries on immigration, the oil trade and many other areas make the strategic U.S.-Mexican relationship one of this countrys most vital.
This gives the United States a huge stake in the success of Mr. Peña Nieto. This country can help by providing training and assistance to anti-narcotics forces and, most of all, by finding a way to limit the unrestricted flow of U.S. arms into Mexico. That should be a priority for both governments, but ultimately it is up to the energetic former governor of the State of Mexico to show that he intends to fulfill his promise of bringing narcotics gangsters under control.
If he wants to be taken seriously, he can start by making bold moves to stop the outrageous impunity that has diminished the governments standing in the eyes of its own citizens.
In border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, most crimes go unreported because people dont trust the police. The same is true elsewhere. Headless bodies show up in public squares or hanging from bridges, yet no one is arrested and charged. Perp walks often are a farce, with the accused later freed.
Because Mr. Peña Nieto was the candidate of the political party seen as Mexicos old guard, known by the acronym PRI, many see him with suspicion. His victory has revived fears that Mexico is going back to the future, with a young new leader putting a new face on the unchanged politics of the formerly dominant party that nurtured the culture of corruption.
In 2000, President Vicente Fox of the center-right PAN finally beat the PRI. He was followed in 2006 by incumbent Felipe Calderón, also of the PRD, but they both fell short of their promises. Mr. Calderóns failure to stem the violence left voters eager for change.
Mr. Peña Nieto claims that as a leader of a new generation of political leaders, he will fight corruption and beat the drug traffickers Thats a long-term project, but nothing could give him greater credibility with one stroke than to hold the leaders of his own party, like the PRI governors of the drug-riddled states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz, accountable for the collapse of police authority in their jurisdictions, acting to remove them if necessary.
Mr. Peña Nieto eked out a win against two other candidates with only 38 percent of the vote, not much of a mandate. But Mexicos people are eager for someone who can both restore the authority of the state and create a belief that justice is possible. By winning the confidence of Mexicos violence-weary people and creating a solid popular following to enlarge his mandate, Mr. Peña Nieto can overcome his inherent weakness.
The best way to demonstrate his bona fides is by leading the fight against corruption and impunity from the top. He waged his campaign on the claim that he represented a new, forward-looking PRI, as well as a courageous generation of fresh political leaders determined to overcome corruption and reclaim their country from the narcotics traffickers. Now he has to show that he means it.