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Feature 070912 Paterson

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mexico's 2012 Elections, Feedback, and Future Youth Protests

By Kent Paterson

Making a surprise appearance in a television time slot that was previously billed as an official first look at the day's election results, Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) strode before the television cameras late in the evening of July 1 to give a victory speech even as the ballots were still being counted.

As Mexicans huddled around their sets, Peña Nieto promised to chart a new course for his troubled country. Exuding a conciliatory tone, he vowed to listen to the concerns of the young, who emerged as a new political force during the campaign, but promised to be stern with the legions of criminals that keep dishing up violence on a daily basis.

"There will be no pact or truce with organized crime," the 45-year-old self-proclaimed victor pledged in an apparent response to critics in Mexico and the U.S. who fear the return of the PRI will mean a coddling of the drug cartels.

The former State of Mexico governor's election victory was immediately recognized by President Felipe Calderon, as well as rival candidates Josefina Vazquez Mota of Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN), and Gabriel Quadri of the National Alliance Party; the official runner-up, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Progressive Movement, reserved the right to contest the results.

The nation's two dominant television networks, Televisa and TV Azteca, which emerged as targets of protesters during the 2012 campaign for supposedly manipulating the campaign in favor of Peña Nieto, quickly fell in line and began putting pressure on Lopez Obrador to accept the inevitable.

Despite the praise heaped on the voting by U.S. President Barack Obama and others, the 2012 elections were marred by scattered outbreaks of violence, widespread accusations of vote-buying by the different political parties, especially the PRI, and the systematic disenfranchisement of large numbers of voters.

In the last few weeks, politically-connected violence intensified in the states of Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chiapas, and Hidalgo.

In June, serious incidents included the murder of PAN activist Edgardo Hernandez, allegedly by Ulises Grajales, the PRI mayoral candidate for the town of Villaflores; and the June 14 assassination of Victor Hugo Genchi, a Congressional candidate for Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in the Costa Chica area of southern Guerrero state.

On June 30, another PRD activist was murdered in Guanajuato, while an election day shooting in Chiapas left three PRI supporters dead, purportedly at the trigger-happy hands of members of the ostensibly allied Mexican Green Party (PVEM).

Across Mexico, thousands of people were denied the right to vote at the special polling stations set up to serve travelers and new residents of cities who carry voter identification cards from their previous residences.

In Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, municipal police and election officials turned away hundreds of people at four special precincts because of the lack of ballots.

Interviewed while departing a special state precinct in front of the Pacific port city's municipal government building, Patricia Zuniga and Alberto Tejada bore deeply dejected looks on their faces. The couple from Guadalajara told Frontera NorteSur that the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) should have more ballots for people in their circumstances.

In a reflection of Mexico's divided political loyalties, Zuniga said she had hoped to cast a vote for Lopez Obrador while Tejada favored the PRI.  In the late afternoon, dozens of other people trying to vote at the site were likewise observed being turned away by the local cops.  In fact, the IFE did not even have a poll open at the downtown site, an area swamped with tourists and out-of-towners, instead placing the special precincts at the far-off bus station and other sites on the edges of town.  At the downtown plaza, only voting for the state election was allowed for residents of the state of Jalisco, which includes Guadalajara.

Informed of their inability to vote downtown, some people complained to personnel from the electoral crimes division of the federal attorney general's office (PGR) who were staffing an adjacent table, but they were told that no crime had been committed.  A PGR official who agreed to talk on condition of anonymity said that the IFE had done an inadequate job in publicizing the special precincts, but that the law stipulated the number of ballots for each special polling place was limited to 750.

The state special precinct also ran out of ballots, at approximately 12:25 pm, according to the precinct captain. Under Jalisco law, the state special precincts are limited to 300 ballots; however, the official election results for the downtown special precinct posted during the evening of July 1 showed 301 votes cast at the site.

Mauricio Vergara and four friends from Guadalajara came to pass the weekend in Puerto Vallarta. The young man said he and his companions decided to wait until the afternoon to vote after learning of long lines in the morning. After walking over to the downtown state special precinct, the group of young people was informed that no more ballots were available.

"I feel defrauded, humiliated," Vergara said in an interview. "I think that is why Mexico is the way it is. (Officials) want us to participate but they don't do their part."

The Mexican media also reported ballot shortages and the mass rejection of voters at special precincts in Mazatlan, Ixtapa, Acapulco, Veracruz, Mexico City, and other places. Sharp protests erupted at some of the locations, and a near-riot reportedly occurred at the Puerto Vallarta bus station, where people had waited in line for four hours or longer.

Troubles at the special precincts have not been exclusive to the 2012 elections, with similar ballot shortages and popular anger pervading the 2000 and 2006 federal elections as well.  Until now, federal lawmakers have failed to increase the number of authorized ballots permitted for the precincts beyond the maximum 750.

The July 1 Election Day problems came after rounds of intense, increasingly negative campaigning in the final days of the municipal, state and federal races.

In Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, many residents breathed an audible sigh of relief when the formal campaign closure meant a halt to the constant rounds of sound trucks, from early morning to evening, promoting the mayoral candidates with pirated lyrical beds like "Eric Fernandez (PRI mayoral candidate) me fascina," in a merengue take on the classic Elvis Crespo song. But the final campaign rallies were also a chance to get a glimpse of the rising and falling stars of the political class, as well as to hear a hint of the emerging, post-election conflict.

At the final rally for Zihuatanejo's PRD mayoral hopeful, Gustavo Garcia Bello, other party candidates for the federal Congress accused the PRI of paying people to attend a similar rally held only days earlier. Congressional candidate and former Zihuatanejo Mayor Amador Campos, who was once identified with the PRI but later joined the PRD, insisted that the PRI had misgoverned Zihuatanejo during the last administration. "We can't lose this election. We can't allow the delinquents to keep governing," Campos said.

Unfortunately for Garcia, Campos and the PRD, the PRI's Eric Fernandez gained the upper-hand and eked out a win over Garcia, with the help of PRD supporters. Reaffirming the old adage that all politics are local, hometown favorite Fernandez gained the support of sectors of the PRD who considered Garcia a candidate imposed from above by the state party leadership, according to a knowledgeable insider.

Guadalajara too witnessed fever-pitch, last-minute campaigning. Campaign literature littering the streets testified to the final push, and several residents told Frontera NorteSur that they had received incessant phone calls, some taped and some made by live callers, attempting to promote certain candidates, trash others and collect personal data for unknown purposes. The mysterious messages emanating from hidden call centers raised another red flag in the controversial issue of campaign spending limitations and the widely criticized but still officially uncalculated expenditures.

The day before the elections, the YoSoy 132 (I am 132) movement, which first emerged in May as a student protest against Peña Nieto and the alleged favoritism of Televisa and other big media for the PRI, held a march and cultural festival attended by several hundred people in Guadalajara.

Warned by the IFE that any reference, positive or negative, to candidates would violate the three-day ban on campaigning before the July 1 voting, the march focused on issues such as media accountability, government transparency, environmental sustainability and democratization of the University of Guadalajara.

As well, 132 organizers and supporters said they did not trust the IFE to run a fair election. "We are tired of election fraud in Mexico, and we want people to realize that all of the governments have robbed us and fooled us," said Claudia Perez, a young Guadalajara worker.

The overwhelmingly young marchers were captivated by an octogenarian, Don Alberto, who joined the protest. "Don Alberto! Don Alberto!" members of the crowd cried out. In return, the feisty senior led the youth in chants of "Zapata Vive! La Lucha Sigue!"  Protest placards expressed the diverse ideological currents influencing the 132ers, with quotes from Gandhi, Edgar Allen Poe, Sartre and the Russian anarchist philosopher Mikhail Bakunin. While one march contingent called out for revolution, a protest sign with a different appeal read: "Mexico needs a rebirth, not a revolution."

Organizer Cristina Martinez earlier said that holding the event was not easy, and a permit that movement activists applied for from the PRI-run city government was never approved, even though the paperwork was submitted several days in advance. Martinez added that her group had a constitutional right to protest and would not be slowed down by unnecessary, bureaucratic foot-dragging.

"There has been a certain amount of obstruction," Martinez maintained. "We are going to invoke our right to use public spaces." The Guadalajara protesters announced plans to set up a protest encampment in the city for 132 hours, and pledged to keep their movement alive after the elections. Explicit anti-Peña protests staged by the 132 Movement have resumed across the country.

As Frontera NorteSur was going to press, the final election results were being compiled by the IFE.  Denouncing the election as an inequitable, dirty affair, Lopez Obrador said that he will legally challenge the results. In a blast from the past of the 2006 election, the two-time presidential candidate also demanded a vote-by-vote recount.

As of July 3, the preliminary IFE vote count shows the center-left political leader well behind Peña Nieto, with the PRI-PVEM candidate garnering 38.15 percent of the vote and Lopez Obrador getting 31.64 percent.

The PAN's Josefina Vazquez Mota is in third place, with 25.4 percent of the ballots cast, while the 2.3 percent won by the National Alliance's Gabriel Quadri will allow his small party to remain an actor on the national political stage.

According to the IFE, more than 63 percent of eligible voters participated in the election for president and Congress.

The coming days promise to be eventful ones in the history of Mexican politics.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur.  Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.

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