11 November 2008

New No. 2 signals party push for unity

by David Agren
The News

With the sudden death last week of Juan Camilo Mouriño, President Felipe Calderón shelved his criteria for appointing Cabinet members on Monday, and reached beyond his inner circle to tap Fernando Gómez Mont as interior secretary.

Analysts say the move reflects a new style of governance being ushered into Los Pinos, and that the president is signalling his desire to advance his agenda of structural reforms in a divided Congress. This would require a shrewd negotiator and non-polarizing figure in the Interior Secretariat.

"This is a good signal because the president, governing with his inner circle, has been isolated and not really able to build bridges," said political analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson. "Calderón's Cabinet [has been] characterized by people who have long futures, but short pasts."

The appointment also reached across current breaches in the National Action Party, or PAN, which has been plagued by low-level feuds between pro-Calderón groups and those that never warmed to his nomination for the presidency.

"[The appointment of Mont is] a strong signal for a unified party," said Jeffrey Weldon, a political science professor at the ITAM.


Gómez Mont, the son of a PAN founder and close collaborator of former PAN presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos, brings a long political history to the Interior Secretariat. He previously sat in the Chamber of Deputies in the early 1990s and participated in commissions that revamped the electoral and judicial systems.

As a criminal defense attorney, he later defended both former President Carlos Salinas and the president's brother Raúl along with a former Pemex director implicated in the Pemexgate scandal.

He also helped create the tamper-proof voter identification card that most Mexicans carry in their wallets.

As an attorney, Gómez Mont developed a reputation as a shrewd negotiator - a key skill for an interior secretary, who acts as a liaison between the presidency and other levels of government, but who is also responsible for security matters.

"The main function of the Interior Secretariat is precisely that of a political operative," Zepeda said. "They didn't opt for a military man, or police official as many had speculated."

Mouriño drew posthumous praise for his political skills, but was derided through his 10-month term by left-wing lawmakers anxious to assail the president via a proxy. They demanded the interior secretary's resignation over allegations of previously steering business to a family company.

Zepeda said Gómez Mont would mostly like draw less fire, but could be "injured" by left-wing lawmakers who hold grudges against Fernández de Cevallos, a controversial figure for his decision to defend private companies as a lawyer against the government while serving as a senator.

"It's important for Calderón to be able to have a moderate left that is allied with him to pass reforms and not have to depend on the [Institutional Revolutionary Party]," Zepeda said.

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