MEXICO ELECTION XIV – Students on the march

Mexicans appear to have returned the PRI to power in general elections. This blog is covering the results live from inside the country

On Monday 2 July, the day after the former autocratic political behemoth, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, was seemingly put back into power in Mexico (many vote recounts have started after “irregularities” were found), thousands of members of the #YoSoy132 protest movement massed just off Mexico City’s grand Paseo de la Reforma boulevard ahead of a march against the election results, in particular the voting in of Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency.

Alert! Alert! Watch what is coming: the student fight for Latin America

Mexico without the PRI, Mexico without the PRI

Supporters of the #YoSoy132 movement give their thoughts

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MEXICO ELECTION VI – PRI wall publicity in Jilotepec

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the vote

Whichever way you turn in Mexico, there are painted walls calling on passers-by to vote one way or another. Here in the traditional PRI territory that is Jilotepec, Mexico State, one name crops up daubed on the bricks more than others.

MEXICO ELECTION V – ‘I was close to dying too’

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog is live in the country covering the vote

It is late morning in Jilotepec, a small town 90 minutes’ drive northwest of the capital, and the daily heat is starting to build. The municipal seat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is quiet the day after the end of campaigning but there are still a dozen young activists meeting in cool rooms in the flowery quandrangle. The 10ft outside walls which enclose the courtyard are coated with the names of different candidates, painted brightly in the PRI’s colours of red, white and green. The huge neat letters bellow at passers-by that the men and women of the PRI “promise to deliver” and that “Jilotepec is our commitment”.

Inside the party’s town headquarters I speak with José Alberto May Montiel, who is the secretary for electoral action of the PRI’s ‘New Mexico’ youth movement. At 24, he is my age and dressed casually with a baseball cap on to shield his eyes from the bright summer sun. He speaks clearly and calmly about his love for the PRI, the once-dominant party that ruled Mexico as an autocracy for more than 70 years until it lost its parliamentary majority and the presidency in 1997 and 2000.

One of the concerns I have heard from Mexicans as the PRI has built had large lead in the municipal, state, governor, parliamentary and presidential polls is that the party that would be put back in power by the people has not changed in its twelve years in opposition. They are fears that it is still the PRI of old, when winks, nods and backhand deals allowed it to maintain itself in power for decades and get rid of any opposition to its one-party rule. José Alberto admits that the PRI of the past “was bad and there was corruption” but he is iron-firm in his belief that the party has cleaned up its image, got rid of all the old problems and has a fresh, youthful team to lead it back into power.

But what will the PRI do when it gets there? José Alberto says the most important issue is to improve the education system and then to get more Mexicans into jobs. And he says this is how Enrique Peña Nieto is going to combat the appalling violence across the country. He cannot find words enough to condemn the policies of outgoing president, Felipe Calderón, of the National Action Party (PAN), who deployed the Mexican armed forces to fight the gangsters. The PRI activist assures me that Peña Nieto would use “more subtle tactics, such as educating the people better and providing gainful employment” to tempt the gang members away from a life of crime. But these are long-term policies: what does he suggest now? “There is no immediate solution” he confesses.

He tells me that the government knows where Joaquín ‘Chapo’ (Shorty) Guzmán is. The most-wanted drug lord in the world, who heads up the powerful Sinaloa organisation, escaped from prison in 2001 and José Alberto is convinced that the PAN, which was in power at the time, facilitated the laughable prison break in which Guzmán made off hidden in a laundry basket.

He closes by recounting a chilling tale from 2010 when Rodolfo Torre Cantú, PRI candidate for governor in the northern state of Tamaulipas, was shot dead alongside two of his advisers. José Alberto was working on Torre Cantú’s campaign and was travelling in the convoy that was attacked by armed men. He tells me of the frightening ambush and looks at me straight in the eye to say “I was close to dying too that day”. Once again, he is certain that it was not a simple gangster attack and he accuses the police of being involved at some level. His happiness from earlier fades slightly and with a huge poster of Enrique Peña Nieto behind him, his gaze ahead suggests that he realises on a very personal level that size of the task facing his beloved candidate to try to bring some semblance of calm back to the streets of his country. But he is sure that the PRI has changed itself and can change Mexico as well if it wins power again this Sunday.

MEXICO ELECTION II – One last hurdle for PRI

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog will cover the vote live from inside the country. This is the second build-up post; click here for the first article

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governs 20 of Mexico’s 32 states. It has 48% of the seats in the lower house of Congress and has the second-biggest number of senators. In the latest presidential poll, published today for national daily Reforma, its hot-seat candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, had a comfortable 12-point lead over his nearest rival. Ever since the 1997 general election when the PRI lost its lower-house majority for the first time and the 2000 presidential vote, when they relinquished the top job as well, the political behemoth has been chipping away at the opposition in an incessant aim to reclaim its position at the head of Mexican politics. And now it is on the verge of sitting astride the national eagle once again.

But it is not just the survey out today that seems to show the the PRI juggernaut is heading unstoppably back to the top of the country. Enrique Peña Nieto was winning the polls even before he declared his candidacy and has held double-digit leads for many months. But despite the seeming inevitability about the PRI’s return to the steering-wheel, it has not been a problem-free drive. There have been widespread student protests against what is perceived to be Peña Nieto’s backing for big business and media interests and a lack of empathy with the ordinary Mexican on the street.

In fact, tonight the #YoSoy132 movement is holding an unofficial third presidential debate. The campaign has its roots in 131 students at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City who heckled Peña Nieto at a conference. The politician accused them of being “manipulated youth from outside the university” but the demonstrators do actually all study at the institution and showed off their matriculation documents in a video response. The ‘132’ is designed to reflect all other Mexicans who are dissatisfied with the former Mexico State governor. The anti-PRI fervour has been inflamed again as Enrique Peña Nieto has declined to take part in tonight’s debate, leaving 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, to battle it out without the favourite in the race.

This is not the first controversial coming together the candidates have had on the campaign trail and the first debate between the four of them was overshadowed when the production team selected a well-endowed model to help the politicians choose who got to speak first. But the two debates they have had were lacklustre. In the most recent one, on 10 June in Guadalajara, the student protests – which could have been a real problem for Peña Nieto – were not raised by the opposing candidates when they could have been tapped into to heap more pressure on the PRI man. Instead, he floated through without entering into any damaging mud-slinging.

Mexico is on the international stage at the moment as it hosts the annual G20 summit during its year as the head nation of the bloc. But far away from the global chit-chat in the beautiful resort of Los Cabos, the stage has been set for a very different kind of summit: an unplanned, student-led debate with the contenders for the top job. And Enrique Peña Nieto has decided not to show, giving himself an unnecessary hurdle on his coast towards power, when he could have seized the opportunity and really given his supporters a political belief to cherish, not just a telegenic smile to accept passively.

Enrique on the way

In a year’s time Mexico will have a new president and it seems the race to Los Pinos is one man’s to lose

The state governor elections in the year before the Mexican presidential election are often taken as a barometer of public opinion in the lead-up to the crunch vote. The barometer is showing pressure building in two areas and for two very different reasons.

Firstly, the president, Felipe Calderón, is seen more and more as a lame duck leader. Heads of state in Mexico only get one, six-year turn at the top and on 1 July, 2012 his time will be up. His defiant ‘war on drugs’ has claimed more than 35,000 lives since it was launched when he came into office in 2006, his reforms have stalled (notably his education changes) and he has lost his majority in the lower house. Constitutionally, he himself has to leave office. But notably, after 12 years in the presidential residence of Los Pinos (first with 2000-2006 president Vicente Fox and then with Calderón), the National Action Party (PAN) is also heading for the salida as Mexico’s dominant political force.

And returning to the fray will be the country’s political behemoth: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Their likely presidential candidate is the second man under pressure: Enrique Peña Nieto. He was the outgoing governor of Mexico State who was replaced by Eruviel Avila in a landslide win in the elections on 3 July. Free from state politics, he now has a year in which to ram home his growing advantages over his rivals.

Peña Nieto leaves behind a state with many healthy public works projects and many unhealthy crime and poverty problems. But two years ago, in the middle of his term as state governor, nearly everyone I spoke to had already signalled him out as the main man to take on the PAN at the next presidential elections. They were in awe of his photogenic charm and smooth political operating. He has overcome personal tragedy, losing his first wife to a heart attack associated with epilepsy. He has remarried a soap star. He is younger than Calderón and has the backing of the most populous state in the country (Mexico State; population 15 million) and will now set out to win over the rest of the country.

Mexico is ready to be won over; it is ready for a change. The drugs war is making very slow and very bloody progress. The government is tired. In 2000 Calderón’s PAN managed to boot out Peña Nieto’s PRI from office after more than 70 years in power. After eleven years in opposition the PRI machinery is oiled and ready for its presidential comeback. The PAN is seemingly already beaten, going by the Mexico State election results. The PRI now has to see off its rival opposition challengers, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, whose candidate for the presidency may well be the combative and equally smooth Mayor of Mexico City Marcelo Ebrard. If Peña Nieto can do that, Los Pinos is his for the taking.