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Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s approval rating has dipped to a dangerously low 12 percent after the government raised gasoline prices to their highest in two decades, leading to looting of department stores and ongoing public protests.
Mexicans have blocked service stations, disrupted highway traffic and staged protests since the government increased fuel prices by 20.1 percent on January 1 and raised unleaded gasoline prices by 14 percent, the most since 1998, as the government eliminated a subsidy that it said favored the richest Mexicans and was too expensive to continue.
Nieto’s move is approved by only 12 percent of Mexicans, which represents the lowest support that any Mexican president has had in two decades of polling, going back to the peso crisis of the mid-1990s. According to a survey by the Mexico City-based newspaper Reforma, Nieto’s approval rating is down from 24 percent in December.
Mexicans trail only South Africans for the percentage of annual income they spend on fuel among 61 nations tracked by Bloomberg, and this fuel sticker shock has elicited criticism from Nieto’s own Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governors as well as party rivals.
Nieto defended the price increase, saying it was necessary due to a rise in global oil prices, arguing that not increasing the prices would have been more painful for the economy, AFP reported.
Related: Mexican Drug Cartels Threaten To Blow Up Gas Stations Over Massive Price Hike
The Mexican peso led declines among major currencies on Wednesday, falling 1.2 percent to 21.77 in late morning trading in New York.
"The president’s drop in approval is without a doubt related to the economy and the increase in gasoline prices," said Lorena Becerra, the poll’s director. "Morena is appearing in first place in terms of preferences for the first time ever. The party is capitalizing on the political damage to the president."
The survey results show that 27 percent of voters align with the opposition Morena party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in next year’s presidential election, compared with 24 percent for the conservative National Action Party and only 17 percent for Pena Nieto’s PRI.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.