Mexico: Return to the “perfect dictatorship”?

Nivedita Kashyap

Between the French elections in April and the US elections in November, the Mexicans voted for their new president on the first of July. Mexico has a presidential system of government and four parties were in the fray, each with a candidate for the post – the PAN, the PRI, the PRD, and the New Alliance. The official election results showed Enrique Peña Nieto from the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional in Spanish) in the lead with 38.2 percent of votes followed by Andres Manuel López Obrador from the PRD with 31.6 percent of votes and Josefina Vázquez Mota from the incumbent PAN with 25.4 percent of votes.

López Obrador, however, has refused to accept the results accusing Peña Nieto’s campaign of electoral fraud and of paying the major media outlets for a favorable coverage. López Obrador’s allegations of widespread vote buying were accompanied by reports of thousands of people rushing to grocery stores to redeem gift cards that they said were given to them by Peña Nieto’s PRI ahead of the elections. Since the results have been announced, thousands of protestors have taken to the streets to protest what they call the “media legitimisation of the electoral fraud”.  These have been led by Mexico’s very own protest movement marshaled via social media, called the “#YoSoy132” (I am 132). The hash tag emphasizes the movement’s connection to Twitter, where it was a trending worldwide topic for days.

Despite the lead in the election results, Peña Nieto cannot declare himself as the president-elect because according to Mexico’s electoral laws, this can only happen when all allegations against the candidate have been first resolved by the Electoral Tribunal of Mexico. Indeed, Barack Obama has been criticised for congratulating Peña Nieto prematurely.

If Peña Nieto is sworn in as the president of Mexico in December this year, he will bring his party, the PRI, to power after 12 years in the opposition. The PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years between 1929 and 2000 and has often resorted to repression of dissent, vote-rigging and corruption to get its way. The outgoing PRI president handpicked his successor in consultation with the party bosses. This had prompted the Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa to call the government under the PRI “the perfect dictatorship”.

The presumed president-elect, Peña Nieto, has sought to distance himself from the old PRI, stating in his first op-ed after the results were declared that his win does not mean a return to the old ways of his party and reaffirming his commitment to democracy. However, the deep discontent among Mexicans persists with the mostly young protestors drawing inspiration from the Occupy movement, the Indignados of Spain and the Arab Spring in demanding “real democracy” for Mexico.

With many movements demanding democracy all over the world, a very interesting initiative  called the Globalbarometer Surveys (GBS) needs to be highlighted. This project seeks to “develop a global intellectual community of democracy studies surveying ordinary citizens”. The GBS surveys three continents with the help of five regional networks covering Europe, Africa, East and South Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East. In an event last year in Bangalore, “The Multiple Meanings of Democracy” some interesting trends from the various country surveys were discussed.

The Latinobarómetro, which is based in Chile, has carried out regular surveys of opinions, attitudes and values in Latin America since 1995. Every year they publish a detailed report in Spanish offering a broad view of popular opinion in the eighteen major countries of Latin America, focusing on Latin American citizens’ political opinions and their satisfaction with their governments. Their 2011 report reveals that Mexicans are the least satisfied with the way democracy works in their country among all eighteen countries surveyed.

Latinobarómetro does offer some hope to the Mexicans’ desire to democratise their country. The graph below (made using data made available online by Latinobarómetro) shows a steady fall in the support for an authoritarian regime among Mexicans. It is now up to the new government to ensure that that the number of Mexicans increasingly indifferent to who governs them change their minds.

 

Nivedita Kashyap works at a research based think tank in Bangalore.

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