Winning Ugly: Peña Nieto and the Mexican Elections

Four days after Mexico’s presidential and national elections, Mexico’s independent electoral institute ordered a swift recount of votes cast in 78,012 of its 143,132 polling stations.

It swiftly confirmed that the candidate of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI), Enrique Peña Nieto, scored a 6.6 percentage point advantage over the candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. While winning the presidency and restoring the PRI to the presidency after a 12-year hiatus, Peña Nieto’s mandate represents less than 40 percent of those who voted.

Concerns regarding the manner of the PRI’s electoral return also rapidly surfaced.

Unwanted attention focused on Peña Nieto’s cozy relations with Mexican media giants Televisa and TV Azteca. As governor of the state of Mexico (2006–2010), a populous center surrounding Mexico’s federal district, Peña Nieto reportedly spent lavishly on PR and received favorable air time to focus on his accomplishments as governor. He also benefited from his celebrity wife, Angelica Rivera, a former Televisa soap opera star. A nagging perception persists that Mexico’s major media outlets leaned favorably in the PRI’s direction.

Other complaints claim that PRI exceeded limits on campaign financing and in Mexico City distributed free gift cards to prospective voters. (PRI officials argue it was a PRD ruse.)

Allegations of irregularities have once more energized a defiant Lopez Obrador to claim that he lost because of electoral machinations. He labeled Peña Nieto “totally immoral” and announced that those voting for PRI were supporting a “regime of corruption.” Lopez Obrador appears poised to play the part of “unhinged Leftist” once more as in 2006.

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Yet, the vote for the left in Mexico represented a substantial 30 percent, and the PRD also gained the mayor’s office in Mexico City. The left will apply pressure on Peña Nieto to address deep-rooted issues of poverty and inequality.

Another vocal source of criticism is an emerging student movement closely linked with social media. Referred to as #YoSoy132, the movement began this May, when university students jeered and protested Peña Nieto’s presence on the campus of a Mexican university. Students reject Peña Nieto’s reported connections with former corrupt PRI politicians.

Peña Nieto wrote in The New York Times: “I am part of a generation of PRI politicians committed to democracy. I reject the practices of the past.”

While the allegations of irregularities will not to keep Peña Nieto from assuming presidential office in December, they are already fueling speculation abut the consequences of a return of old-school PRI “dinosaurs” to power.

Anti-PRI critic Denise Dresser sees darker forces behind Peña Nieto, whose rise reflects “an alliance of oligarchs, vested monopolistic interests, the forces of order, and a population that has become disillusioned with electoral democracy.”

Peña Nieto has youth and the media on his side, but he and the PRI still face a steep gradient if they want to gain the full confidence of the Mexican people. Starting points for future PRI governance are accountability, transparency, and rule of law.

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