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What Happened in the Mexican Election?

“Peña Nieto, how much did it cost you to become president?” cry the tens of thousands of protestants marching in Mexico City and seven other states this Saturday. If anyone thought the Mexican presidential election was heated prior to voting day, what has been happening in the following week is monumental and worth the international attention.

The backdrop to this presidential election was twelve years of reign by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), where Felipe Calderon fought aggressively against drug trafficking, only to obtain minimal results and 60,000 dead. In the meantime, the runner for the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was campaigning hard, recalling the close election results of 2006, where he lost by about 6% and demonstrated ardently for weeks to request a recount, which was not granted.

Then there was Enrique Peña Nieto, who was a nobody until 2005, but soon started a media campaign under what is now called the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), previously the National Revolutionary Party (PNR) and dominated Mexico for those infamous 71 years of authoritarianism until the year 2000.

During the run-up to the election, it became clear that historical supporters of the National Action Party, including the former president, Vicente Fox, were shifting allegiance to Peña Nieto’s party and that it was a contest between him and the leftist, Lopez Obrador. Like elections in other countries, the campaigns were aggressive and ugly, but the main controversy behind this election was the domination of Peña Nieto in the media.

It turns out that Peña Nieto had allegedly agreed with the two main Mexican television groups, Televisa and Television Azteca, to smear his rivals and report pro- Peña Nieto propaganda as news, grant him extra air time cancel a debate which was considered unfavourable for his campaign.

For me, coming from Italy, I have to say all this sounds very familiar, where Berlusconi owns the media group, Mediaset, and the content of their programmes have been consistently biased. However, the controversy about Peña Nieto goes on and numerous citizens have confirmed that his party gave out pre-paid cards worth about £4.50 each, that they could spend in supermarkets. Some national media claim that his party spent around £33.3m to buy votes, when in reality, the electoral authority demands that the total campaign fee does not exceed £15.7m and the suspicion is that Peña Nieto did not report all his expenses.

Needless to say, the election was won by Enrique Peña Nieto, with 38.1% of the votes, against the 31.6% of Lopez Obrador and a dramatic loss by Josefina Vasquez Mota of the National Action Party, who obtained just 26% of the vote. The controversy continued throughout the counting of the votes, when just halfway through the process, Peña Nieto gave a speech announcing his victory, which was followed by messages of support from leaders of other countries.

Although the National Action Party admitted defeat, the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party of Lopez Obrador, insisted that the election was fraudulent and requested a recount. Throughout last week, over 54% of the votes were re-counted and yet it was confirmed that Peña Nieto was a clear winner. But then why is it that most of Mexico seems unhappy with the results? Why was #YoSoy132 created by the students of UNAM in May, condemning Peña Nieto for media manipulation? And why did so many people protest this Saturday?

This aftermath of the presidential election is a demonstration of how Mexico is a divided country. More than 62% of the registered voters voted and most of the supporters of Peña Nieto came from the northern and western regions of Mexico, and most importantly those of low-income and minimal educational background.

Supporters of Lopez Obrador on the other hand, are concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country and he has traditionally been voted for by the higher educated segments of this population. This segmentation has much to do with the campaign strategy of Peña Nieto, which has been one of focusing on his personal image, above that of the party, and to execute a somewhat grass-roots approach, where he selected some regional political leaders, with the same clean-cut attracive look, raised them throughout the last years as the Fuerza Mexiquense and now used them to disemminate campaign propaganda.

What concerns some Mexicans, is the legacy of modern dictatorship that Peña Nieto’s party brings back, which was tainted with corruption and abuse of human rights. Moreover, Peña Nieto’s campaign was focused more on his image and less on content, showing him as a politician of little substance.

Nonetheless, one has to admit that he did outsmart the others, by modernising his campaign in a populist way, by focusing on TV coverage and sticking to a simple grass-roots message, which clearly resonated with the voters. Hence, the people have spoken. In theory. It will be interesting to see to what extent the authorities will go out of their way to investigate those claims of fraud and if not, should we give the benefit of the doubt to Peña Nieto?

Ayako Iba

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