I recently read an article that said that democracy in Mexico was only 12 years old. I immediately thought such claim was wrong. Mexico has been holding elections since before the Mexican Revolution. But then I realized. Can we really say a country is a democracy when its government has been in the hands of one single political party? On July 2, 2012 Enrique Peña Nieto was elected president of Mexico; that was the day the PRI reclaimed its power monopoly. The level of participation from young people in this electoral process was unprecedented. Their participation however, for the most part, was to prevent Peña Nieto from getting the Presidency. Massive protests from the beginning of his campaign broke out in major cities, intensifying after the results of the election were revealed. Even with these events, this election was much different than previous ones.
In 2000, Vicente Fox from the PAN became president of Mexico breaking with more than 70 years of long overdue domination of the PRI. In 2006, Felipe Calderon also from the PAN became the second president in the history of Mexico to present a different plan to the Mexican people. Apparently, the spell had been broken. However, the wave of drug-related violence and economic downturn that spread all across the country, gave the PRI a new chance to regain support from the people. After almost six years of horrific violence breaking away from the PAN seemed like the only way to go. After all, it was the PAN who had been in charge when the situation spiraled out of control and drug-related violence, including extortions, kidnappings and thousands of murders, seemed to be attributable to a policy of full-on “war on drugs” that no other presidency had adopted. Some would consider it brave and bold. It proved nevertheless, to be very poorly designed and a lot more challenging than expected.
The latest presidential race in Mexico was, to say the least, very different from previous ones. The candidate from the center right PAN – Josefina Vazquez Mota relied on a campaign that was for the most part focused on the empowerment of women. While this was nothing less than respectable and very much needed, her message was never delivered with enough conviction, thus failing to create momentum for her. The leftist Lopez Obrador from PRD had an astonishingly massive support base comprised mainly on young people. His message was that of major reform and was considered by many to be heavily populist.
Enrique Peña Nieto was a completely different story. His coming into the presidency meant the return of the party that had controlled Mexican politics for more than seven decades. It is no surprise that a party that manages to accomplish such a thing. has to rely on much more than good governance and honest politicians. It was been widely claimed, and relentlessly denied by Peña Nieto that Carlos Salinas de Gortari was endorsing Peña Nieto’s campaign. Salinas de Gortari could easily go down on history as the most corrupt president contemporary Mexico has ever had; misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars from the Mexican government that were discovered in various alias accounts around the world after his term. Regardless of such claim, it is hard to deny that party affiliation many times dictates the course of politics.
Allegations about the illegality of the election were also widespread. Claims have been made that many votes were purchased by the PRI in exchange of groceries and other perks. Ignorance and need are a bad combination in election times; political outcomes seem so far away and so trivial when poverty and necessity are rampant. Other allegations put forth that officials from the government-independent electoral authority had been bribed by the party and that investigations into the illegality of the election were never carried appropriately. All these claims are hard to prove. So, what is there left to be done?
It is an undeniable fact that Enrique Peña Nieto will be the President of Mexico for the next six years, whether people like it or not. As a young president in a freer Mexico, he is expected to break away from party ties and leave behind an era of a corrupt PRI and of political favors. Civil society in Mexico is more mobilized, strong, organized and involved in politics as it has never been before. This transforms Mexican society into a powerful tool to demand accountability, to ensure they have a saying in the course the country will take and that their participation in such process is guaranteed. The new government must recognize then, that the Mexican people will demand it to do the job it promised to do and offer a better future for all Mexicans.
The new path Mexico can take towards continuous peace, progress, development, equality of opportunity and has a better standing in the world does not only rest in the hands of the president. It is every citizen’s obligation and privilege to work together every day to have a better country.
Paulina is a second year Masters candidate at the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations specializing in International Economic Development and International Law and Human Rights.
Image from Senado de la República de México