The great deficit of recent decades has been that of leadership. There has not been clarity of course nor ambition for transformation: there has been administration, but not the consolidation of a platform likely to lead Mexico toward a better future. This absence has not only impeded us from seizing opportunities or changing circumstances into opportunities, but has also caused a retraction in the society as a whole: each standing guard over their own and no one developing forward-looking projects. The notion of development virtually disappeared from the map.
We Mexicans have a love-hate relationship with strong leadership in the presidency because the experience has not been benign on that front: a long history of imposition has created enormous resistance to any change, the performance of incompetent leaders has ended in enormous financial crises and excesses of power entailing erroneous decisions with grave economic consequences in the long run. However, in all of these cases, the problem was not one of leadership but the total lack of checks and balances.
Though imperfect, today there is series of checks and balances that while not mainly institutional, indeed has had the effect of checking on the exercise of power. This is not bad in terms of the exercise of the governmental function, but achieving a proper balance would require effective and transparent institutional checks and balances for all. However, none of this changes the fact that the country is avid, and has the need for a leader who is at once strong and effective, but who at the same time is delimited, capable of understanding the context in which he is to operate. That is, one with good judgment. Isaiah Berlin defined good political judgment as “a capacity for integrating a vast amalgam of constantly changing, multicolored, evanescent overlapping data”.
The country that Enrique Peña-Nieto will find is stuck, each of its parts engrossed in its own labyrinth. In the absence of a clear course, the panorama is dominated by forces refractory to any change if not reactionary in the literal, not the ideological, sense of the word. Poised on the brink of an inexistent or marginally clear future, it is natural to take refuge in the known: in the past.
While the phenomenon is particularly visible in some, very specific ambits, the reality is that the space of national life that has achieved disassociating itself from this trend is rare. The Left that has dominated these last years is intent upon reconstructing the seventies; the private sector is pigeonholed in a protectionist model of industrial development; the old bureaucracy conceives of no solution that does not imply greater spending; the foreign office is split, some of its members attempting “not to move anything”, others to returning to the comfort zone of blaming the Americans for our wrongs. The PRI is yet to show its colors, but it is quite obvious that many yearn for the past. The PAN, the governing party in recent years, is discussing a return to its roots. The past offers a refuge, even if only one of perdition.
It’s evident that each of these groups and sectors possesses contingents and leaderships that are not only clear-minded with respect to what is imperative to achieve, but also even concerning what they have been accomplishing in their own ambits of competition: currents, business enterprises, groups and spaces in general. However, all of these leaderships, or potential leaderships, find themselves harassed by the general tenor of the harshness of the context. No one, not those who effectively wield power or the capacity of example, dares to stick their head out. What is excessively visible in the hidden struggle for the future inside the Left is equally true within the private sector, in the PAN and in all corners of the country.
Everyone knows that the old arrangements that continue to exist, as well as the old economy or the old ways of conducting foreign policy, to continue with the same examples, do not offer us opportunities to get ahead, but no one wants to risk their own skin within a context in which success continues to be penalized and the cost of erring, or of a failure, is incommensurate.
Another way of saying all of this is that the country has enormous capacities ready to transform itself, that the leadership reserves are vast and that, different from Europe or the U.S., our structural situation (economically speaking) is much stronger and promising, however urgent the diverse reforms and adjustments are. The country is ready to step out for a walk but no one dares to take the big step. That’s the deficit of leadership.
The status quo ends up being convenient for all but good only for the most encumbered interests. This paradox can only be resolved with the presence of two simultaneous circumstances: on the one hand, effective leadership; on the other, enlightened leadership, which understands the dynamic characterizing the world and that is capable of developing competent strategies for achieving success. The country urgently needs clear leadership that draws strategic lines and, above all, that facilitates the rise of all this potential that has been accumulating throughout two or three decades but that has not yet seen the light of day.
The Mexico of some decades ago would allow for and favor the nearly unipersonal exercise of power. Today domestic as well as the international circumstances make this scenario much more difficult, if not impossible. One core characteristic of the Mexico of today –and of the global economy- is decentralization of power and productive activity. The central controls are no longer functional and, in myriad cases, possible. What the country requires is clarity of course for development, which implies, paradoxically, rendering possible the multiplication of sectorial and functional leaderships.
With clarity regarding the nature of the challenge, the incoming president will have the exceptional opportunity of achieving two things that have been impossible in the last two decades: breaking through the paralyzing inertia and constructing lasting institutions. This can only be attained through a broad agreement that is susceptible of attracting the citizenship. The mixture of the two is key: unstick what is stuck employing the leverage of all this accumulated potential and, at the same time, constructing the institutions that grant a space to all of the groups and political and productive forces. The former is indispensable but, given the conflict level, it would perhaps be impossible without the latter.
Benjamin Disraeli, one of England’s great prime ministers of the end of the XIX Century, said that “Circumstances are beyond the control of man; but his conduct is in his own power”. The opportunity is immense and the complexity of the moment makes it that much greater.