“There’s a tide, a wave of optimism that this government can get issues through Congress,” Duncan Wood, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said at a forum Jan. 9.
Wood cited not only the education reform but also a pro-business labor reform that passed Congress last November, before Pena Nieto took office but with support from his transition team and the PRI.
Still pending, though, are crucial promised reforms that include pledges to broaden the tax-collection system and modernize the state oil company by opening it to some form of foreign investment. Both those reforms are anathema to factions within the political left, and they may fracture the Pact for Mexico.
“The question is if the pact will be kept alive but at a cost of having only superficial reforms,” said Buendia.
As personable as Calderon was dour, Pena Nieto as president has shown only minimal flashes of the occasional flat-footedness he displayed on the campaign trail.
At a public appearance a few days ago, he mangled the admittedly unwieldy name of the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Data Protection, giving a field day to critics, who posted video of his mental lapse on social media.
Far more common are images of Pena Nieto relishing his new post.
“He displays the disposition of someone very comfortable in his job and who enjoys power,” Buendia said. “There are numerous images of him smiling or cracking jokes.”
Unlike Calderon, who seemed more at ease with aides who demonstrated loyalty rather than ability, Pena Nieto has packed his Cabinet with heavyweight politicos, brainy technocrats and members of other parties.
“He’s clearly a very capable politician,” said Elizondo. “He has a strong sense of power. . . . People within his team respect him.”
Certainly some of the perception can be chalked up to a feel-good public honeymoon. Yet to be seen is whether Pena Nieto can fulfill hundreds of campaign pledges, which range from specific road and health clinic promises to a harder-to-accomplish vow to boost economic growth to an all-out 6 percent a year.