Preliminary results show Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), won Sunday’s presidential election in Mexico with 38.14% of the vote. Second-placed Andrés Manuel López Obrador has contested the result, saying in a press conference that the vote was not “free or fair” and demanding a re-count. Electoral authorities have said that up to a third of the votes cast could be subject to revision under an electoral law passed in 2007.
Though pending a final count, due in the next week, Peña Nieto has already celebrated the victory and asked Mexicans to put their differences behind them after a tense campaign period in which drug violence, media coverage and election fraud became the focus of bitter debates.
After more than 60,000 deaths during outgoing president Felipe Calderón’s term as a result of the country’s ‘war against drugs’, the 1st July election was seen as especially crucial for the Mexico’s political future. Yet with no candidate seemingly offering a clear solution to the violence that has gripped the country, polls showed that a significant part of the population had no idea who they were going to vote for.
Lingering uncertainty over the eventual winner aside, the problems dividing voters and the challenges facing Mexican politics are not likely to disappear soon, making for a testing start for the incoming president.
Fraud, Indecision, and the Electoral Process
Among the chief concerns in the run up to the election was the potential for fraud, and even if a recount falls in his favour, Peña Nieto’s first task will be to gain acceptance for his victory.
The 2006 presidential elections in Mexico were tainted by suspicions of fraud, when president Felipe Calderón, of the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN) won by a margin of less than 1%.
Before Sunday’s vote, and the latest allegations of voting irregularities, Mexican economist Berenice Miramontes expressed a worry that “with the experience we’ve had as a country, many people have just naturalised [the possibility of fraud]…they say ‘well, the government has the power to do and undo whatever they feel like’. I have friends who are saying it’s not worth voting.”
Alejandra Ortiz, a graduate in International Relations and process observer in the elections, affirmed that “there’s a lot of distrust of the electoral process.”
In the days leading up to the elections, Facebook and other social media platforms were full of rumours about how fraud would occur. On Friday and Saturday, internet sites reported that voting booths were providing erasable pencils, and that everyone should try to bring a marker or a pen in order to make sure their vote was not erased. Lilian Galante, a political scientist from Mexico City, says that websites were showing videos and witnesses claiming that the PRI was trying to steal and buy votes.
A lack of faith in the democratic process contributed to the high percentage of undecided voters in pre-election polls. Media activist Ricardo Garza Carpio, from the ‘Frontera Cero’ and ‘La Media Naranja’ media collectives, says that, according to his experience, many people seemed to have been voting against, rather than for, someone, and were struggling to figure out how they could cast the most useful vote.
#YoSoy132 and the Mexican Mass Media
While some citizens wondered whether it was worth voting at all, young groups and social networks played an important and active role during the campaign period.
Peña Nieto, widely seen as favourite to win in polls, faced a nation-wide student protest, nicknamed the #YoSoy132 movement after its twitter tag, that was clamouring for his defeat.
The #YoSoy132 student movement started with a talk on the campus of the prestigious Ibero American University in Mexico City in May 2012. Peña Nieto, with a winning smile and a beautiful, much-loved soap-opera-star wife, gave a talk that should have been just another campaign event, but turned into the beginning of a massive protest movement.
In May of 2006, one of the most important acts of police repression and violation of human rights in recent Mexican history occurred in the state of Mexico. Residents of the city of Texcoco, angered by the government’s decision to block the activities at a local flower market, teamed up with residents of the neighbouring village Atenco, who were dealing with their own political disagreements, to protest against the government.
In response, the government sent in tens of thousands of police officers in a repression that involved beatings, rapes, and the death of two people, one of whom was a student at the Ibero American University. Peña Nieto, who was governor of the state at the time, was never tried for what happened, and the students in the audience where he gave the speech on the 11th May 2012 started booing and shouting at him, angered by his role in this horrible occurrence.
When the campus protest was covered by the media, reporters said that it was “just 131 delinquents”, and that it had all been orchestrated by the opposing, second-place candidate, López Obrador. Students first responded by creating a video that went viral on Youtube, and after that by creating a whole movement that many say caught on precisely because of its presence on the internet and social media, and is known as ‘I am 132′
Ortiz says that the student movement was born out of two demands: “a direct demand that Peña Nieto be tried for his role in the Atenco crimes,” and “an end to manipulation in the mass media.”
There are only two television broadcast companies in Mexico, Televisa and TV Azteca, which control virtually all television stations. In the run up to the election, the #Yosoy132 movement denounced their pro-Peña Nieta bias as well as their coverage of the initial protest at the university.
#YoSoy132 spread largely due to their use of social media and, in the absence of many impartial and critical media outlets, dedicated itself to spreading information via internet. Miramontes explains that these students were “demanding that the media be impartial more than anything else…and that people be a little more informed before they vote, more conscious” about who the candidates are.
Violence in Mexico
With a somewhat weakened legitimacy due to the fraud allegations and the massive student movement against him, probably the most serious issue that Peña Nieto is going to have deal with during his presidency is the legacy of violence left by the ‘war on drugs’ that Calderón initiated during his mandate.
Garza Carpio is from the northern Mexican city of Monterrey. “When the war against narco-trafficking began, the government of Monterrey started handing out these pamphlets,” he says, as he shows a ‘Manual of Personal Security’. The manual teaches people what they should do in a situation of extreme violence, situations that can occur in this war against drugs. For example, what to do if one “finds oneself in the middle of a shooting” (the answer is: “hide yourself in a secure place, like against a wall…if you’re in an open area, throw yourself immediately to the ground. Avoid visual contact with the aggressors.”). “It’s pretty cynical,” says Carpio.
This is just a small piece of evidence that Mexico is living, at least in certain areas like the city of Monterrey, a real war, with many innocent victims. And it has got to a point where citizens and government officials cannot ignore the situation. The disastrous death toll during Calderon’s presidential term is cited as one of the main reasons for the failure of his political party, the PAN, and its presidential candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, in last weekend’s vote.
Miramontes, as a result of the injustice and insecurity she finds in the current situation of violence, became part of a Buenos Aires contingent of the movement known as “No Más Sangre” (No more blood). The movement began when Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s son was assassinated and he wrote a letter, which was spread widely through the internet, telling his fellow citizens and the government that the situation had to be reversed before more innocent victims were killed.
When Miramontes arrived in Argentina to complete a masters’ programme, in 2010 (she has now returned to Mexico and is living in Guadalajara), Sicilia led a “Peace March” in Mexico and called for “Mexicans in any part of the world to join the march.” Miramontes and her friends “led a march at the Mexican embassy [in Buenos Aires] where we met more people interested in the cause and formed a ‘No Más Sangre’ group with them.”
Miramontes says that Sicilia met with the candidates, asking them to address the situation of violence occurring in Mexico, but that all of them issued very vague responses. “They hugged and took the typical picture for the newspaper…but Sicilia has come out saying that none of these candidates really want to provide a solution.
Ortiz agrees, and comments that “a proposal to eliminate the violence…was just not really present in the candidates’ discourses…no one wants to commit to anything.”
As cited in a recent New York Times article in his new role as president elect, Peña Nieto spoke about the drug war with a typically vague and unpromising answer: “The fight against crime will continue.”
How it will continue, remains to be seen. But after a very heated and controversial election, it is likely that every movement the new president makes will be closely scrutinised.
What do Argentines and Mexicans living in Buenos Aires think about the election of Peña Nieto as president? Click here to find out.