Mexico’s election or “imposition”?

July 10, 2012

Lance Selfa analyzes the outcome of the presidential election in Mexico--and traces the rise of a new resistance among students to the ruling establishment.

TENS OF thousands of protesters marched in Mexico City and 16 of Mexico's states July 7 to protest what they called the "imposition" of Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as president of Mexico.

The protesters--many, although not all, supporters of the losing populist candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador, popularly known by his initials "AMLO"--charged the Mexican political establishment with rigging the July 1 presidential election to produce the outcome it wanted: victory for Peña Nieto.

In achieving its desired outcome, the Mexican ruling class found willing partners among its cohorts in Europe, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S. Before the votes were even officially tallied, Peña Nieto was fielding official messages of congratulation from across the capitalist world.

To millions of Mexicans who voted against the main neoliberal candidates--Peña Nieto and Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), the party of outgoing president Felipe Calderón--this elite support for Peña Nieto from around the world was an insult and further evidence of the drive to impose the PRI candidate.

YoSoy#132 protesters march through Mexico City against the fraudulent election of Enrique Peña Nieto
YoSoy#132 protesters march through Mexico City against the fraudulent election of Enrique Peña Nieto (Ismael Villafranco)

Early exit polls and voting returns showed that Peña Nieto had won 38 percent of the vote, compared to 31 percent for AMLO, who headed the Progressive Movement electoral coalition. PAN's Vázquez Mota came in a distant third with 25 percent.

Within hours of the polls closing, however, hundreds of reports of irregularities and allegations of PRI vote-buying emerged. On July 2, López Obrador called for a full recount of the vote.

The Federal Elections Institute (whose Spanish initials are IFE) refused the full recount. After agreeing to review about one-third of the ballots, it shaved the margin between Peña Nieto and AMLO a bit, pushing López Obrador's tally closer to 32 percent. But in the end, it didn't change the outcome.

THE JULY 7 march into the Zócalo, the main national plaza, continued for four hours, drawing energy from thousands of members of the student movement YoSoy#132.

YoSoy#132 exploded onto the national scene in May, when students at Ibero-American University protested Peña Nieto's appearance there, forcing him to flee the stage. The student protest mushroomed like the U.S. Occupy movement and Greece's "movement of the squares," with mass student demonstrations focused on democratization of the country, its institutions and media.

Erupting only a few weeks before the national elections, the student movement disrupted the ruling class's plans to assure an easy transition from the right-wing PAN, which presided over 12 years of neoliberal "reform," to an equally business-friendly PRI. In 2012, big business knew it couldn't sell another term for PAN. Calderón had presided over the worst per capita income growth in Latin America and turned whole sections of the country into drug-war zones where tens of thousands have been killed.

In 2006, a massive media campaign predicting social chaos if AMLO won helped Calderón eke out a come-from-behind victory--again with widespread allegations of fraud that may have cost López Obrador the presidency. This year, the ads for Peña Nieto on the two major networks outpaced those for AMLO by a factor of four-to-one. This is why YoSoy#132 started as a protest movement against pro-PRI media manipulation.

AMLO is hardly the radical that the right-wing media portray. He is a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) that originated in 1989 as a merger between old PRI politicians (like AMLO) who supported a nationalist, state-directed model of economic development and sections of the Mexican left.

In his 2012 election campaign, AMLO even went out of his way to include prominent business figures and establishment politicians among his advisers, use the rhetoric of "fiscal discipline" when talking about the budget; and preach "civility" in his debates with opponents and in his messages to his followers.

The "moderate" AMLO didn't win over the majority of the political and business establishment. They opposed him because, despite his many compromises with the right, he refused to completely abandon his populism. For example, AMLO supports the continued nationalization of the oil industry. For years, big business has salivated at the prospect of privatizing PEMEX, the national oil monopoly. Peña Nieto may just grant them their wish.

For months, AMLO languished in third place in the polls, appearing only to gain support from about one-fifth to one-fourth of the electorate. Meanwhile, Peña Nieto looked like he might even win an outright majority of the vote. But in the period between the May eruption of YoSoy#132 and the election, support for López Obrador jumped, and Peña Nieto's support dropped by around a dozen percentage points.

That had more to do with YoSoy#132's ability to tap into a well-spring of bitterness among ordinary Mexicans than anything López Obrador did.

THE MEXICAN social movements certainly have plenty of reason to resist Peña Nieto. The current PRI governor of the state of Mexico, Peña Nieto represents the party that ruled the country as a one-party state from 1929 to 2000. Behind his telegenic persona lies a politician mentored by figures associated with PRI bigwigs like former President Carlos Salinas and the corrupt teachers' union leader Elba Esther Gordillo.

As governor of Mexico, Peña Nieto ordered state police in 2006 to break a mass mobilization in support of local flower vendors in the town of San Salvador Atenco. Police killed two protesters, sexually assaulted dozens of women and arbitrarily arrested hundreds. The National Human Rights Commission labeled the attack a gross violation of human rights, but Peña Nieto was never held accountable for it.

Peña Nieto's campaign--aided by Televisa and TV Azteca, the two major national television networks; millions of contributions from big business; and support from abroad--wanted to portray a "modern" image. The old corrupt, authoritarian PRI was a supposed to be a relic of the past, and the new "modernized" PRI was supposed to be leading an increasingly economically developed and middle-class nation into the future. At least that was the propaganda that even liberals from the Democratic Party in the U.S. promoted.

But this mythic Mexico and the real Mexico differ like night and day. Despite all of the hoopla about Mexican economic progress, 70 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 30 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.

And the "new" PRI looks a lot like the "old" PRI. Voting irregularities in PRI-dominated localities--such as more than 100 percent of registered voters turning out for the PRI candidate--were one reminder of the old days. Another was the disclosure that the retail chain Soriana distributed thousands of gift cards to voters in exchange for votes for the PRI. The party may have spent upwards of $500 million on the gift cards.

Chants of "fraude, fraude" ("fraud, fraud") were the most constant on the June 7 march, and students carried signs lampooning IFE as the "Institute of Electoral Fraud," according to reports in La Jornada. This goes to show that for a significant part of the population, Peña Nieto will be an illegitimate president, with the entire political establishment--from the media and polling firms, to political parties and big business--seen as complicit in foisting him on the public.

As this article was being written, AMLO had not called for mass civil resistance to "the imposition," and given his moderation and pledges to remain committed to "legality" during the campaign, it's unlikely he will. Nevertheless, Peña Nieto's inauguration is six months away, and a reignited social movement may yet place more obstacles in his path.

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