On 19 June the student protest movement, known as #YoSoy132, held an unofficial third presidential debate. This has never occurred before and showed the power of youth co-ordination. Thousands of students have been rallying and demonstrating during these closing weeks of the long presidential campaign, calling for change and publicising their discontent with modern, sheltered politicians, a perceived lack of honest concern for the ordinary Mexican and ongoing links with the shadier side of politics. As explained in the previous MEXICO ELECTION post, the ’132′ is designed to stand for any person who allies themselves with the sense of dissatisfaction more widely (Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo addressed a ‘132’ concert in Mexico City recently) but particularly those who are rebelling against the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and their likely winner in the presidential race, Enrique Peña Nieto.
The former Mexico State governor declined to take part in last week’s debate, and his absence was represented by an empty chair. The three other presidential candidates, PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota, the PRD’s Andrés López Manuel Obrador and PANAL’s Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, answered questions vetted by students. There is growing support for the political dissatisfaction and desires for change embodied by the movement but while it could be said that Peña Nieto was out-of-touch and complacent not to feel the need to turn up to the debate, it is also true that the atmosphere was already skewed against him and his policies.
It is a sticky situation for all concerned:
– the students want a new politics to come to the fore and rightfully want more openness, less winking and nodding to vested interests and clear, truthful policies that start at the bottom and work up, not the other way around.
– the politicians each desire and support different ideas: Enrique Peña Nieto is fighting against the corrupt memories his party stirs up but is leading the race by a mile and offers a youthful, populist replacement; Josefina Vázquez Mota, the government’s candidate, is stained by her predecessor’s messy deployment of the military to battle the gangsters and the continuing violence; Andrés Manuel López Obrador is still criticised for the mass demonstrations he led that crippled the capital in the months after he lost the 2006 presidential race by 0.5%; and Gabriel Quadri de la Torre is fighting respectfully but fruitlessly against the other three political giants with his small coalition.
– the people are embittered by many issues, especially the brutality visited upon them by the ongoing battle of ‘gangsters v armed forces v gangsters v police’ and the chaotic gap between the US-educated elite and the (often) indigenous language-speaking rural poor.
Mexico recently hosted the G20 summit and is building on its position as one of the top economies in the world. It is a regional leader and second only to Brazil in Latin American influence. It is a big, powerful country that is tearing itself up internally at the moment. The countdown to Sunday’s election has begun and there will be widespread celebrations if Enrique Peña Nieto wins. There will also be popular discontent and the student protests will probably grow. Not all 115m Mexicans will vote for the PRI but they will all remember the 70 years of uninterrupted power the party once enjoyed. Mr Peña Nieto must try to build on his words of ‘transparency and clarity’ and bring a sense of security to the country. If he does win he will not be able to relax: there are now campuses full of restless students examining his every move.