Pe__a Nieto's win weaker

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party is marching back into the presidential palace bolstered by its control of ...

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party is marching back into the presidential palace bolstered by its control of a raft of state governorships and a good standing in Congress.

But its mandate is much shakier than the party had predicted before Sunday's election, reflecting the nagging suspicions with which many Mexicans regard the PRI and complicating President-elect Enrique Pe__a Nieto's ability to execute an ambitious reform program.

He will have to negotiate with rival parties, including a newly empowered left, and will not have the free hand he might have expected as he pursues initiatives such as opening up the massive state oil company, Pemex, to foreign investment. Resistance from the opposition, as well as the old guard of his party and the unions that backed him, could block reforms and condemn Mexico to status quo and economic malaise.

"His mandate is clearly weaker than expected," said Carlos Ramirez, a Mexico analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group.

"He will be in a tough spot. The view inside the party was that they were going to win by a landslide.... Pe__a will have to choose his battles because he's likely to encounter resistance from within his coalition."

Pe__a Nieto will be handcuffed to some degree by the wariness with which voters viewed handing power back to his party, whose 70-year rule was characterized by rampant corruption and authoritarian practices. Despite his victory, 3 in 5 voters cast ballots for other parties.

"It would be in the PRI's interest to read this victory with humility, that they won despite their limitations," said Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a columnist with the newspaper Reforma. "The PRI is obliged now to show it can govern democratically. It must admit that the sources of this deep, stubborn lack of confidence are, in the end, healthy and necessary."

Pe__a Nieto, who does not take office until December, appears to understand the pressure he is under to prove that the PRI has changed. Claiming victory shortly before midnight Sunday, and repeating it Monday in a meeting with reporters, he declared his future government "willing to listen, open to criticism." What he will not do, he said, is "return to the past."

In the Monday remarks, Pe__a Nieto also said he had received congratulatory messages from various heads of state, including a telephone call from President Obama. The White House said the president "reiterated his commitment to working in partnership with Mexico and looks forward to advancing common goals, including promoting democracy, economic prosperity and security in the region and around the globe, in the coming years."

Pe__a Nieto repeated his plans to reform Pemex, a potential political minefield. Nationalized in the 1930s, the oil giant occupies a special place in the Mexican psyche, but needs expensive investments to maintain the production that is a principal source of state revenue.

Some Mexicans regard adding foreign capital as an affront to national pride, and the oil company's powerful unions also will object to any loss of jobs or control.

Pe__a Nieto also repeated his pledge to work to reduce the violence sweeping the country while continuing the fight against drug cartels. His proposed policies do not differ radically from those of the current president, Felipe Calderon.

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By LA Times

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