For the second time in six years protests have erupted after an election result was seen as deeply flawed. The context is the ruling elites’ response to attempts to challenge them at the ballot box. The old ruling party, the PRI, controlled the Mexican presidency for 70 years.
Since 2000 the presidency has been in the hands of a right wing neoliberal party, the PAN. But in the 2006 election both PAN and PRI, were challenged by the left wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
He was charismatic, and very popular for his role as mayor of Mexico city. He promised to tackle corruption and make the rich pay taxes, and opposed neoliberal privatisation.
Through 2005 he led the polls and the Mexican ruling class was worried. It ran a media campaign saying he was dangerous for Mexico, that he was going to cause a crisis and become a radical like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
But despite all this the PAN candidate Felipe Calderon won by less than half a percent. There were numerous reports of ballot boxes being tampered with. So Obrador didn’t accept the result—he declared himself the legitimate president and called for protests.
One in particular was massive. Newspapers said there were millions of us. Obrador’s supporters occupied the city centre for months, disrupting traffic in one of the main avenues.
Calderon’s inauguration was a joke. He had to enter through the back door because the front was blocked by protesters. He couldn’t give his speech for all the shouting.
Since then, Calderon and the PAN have lost further support because of their war on drugs. More than 50,000 people have been killed.
Everyone knows someone who’s been killed, or at least had a bad experience. There are places where the drug gangs even collect taxes.
Using the army hasn’t worked—whenever they kill or capture one gang leader another takes his place. And the army is so corrupt in some places that the drug war now takes place inside its ranks.
The real problem is social, especially in the north where unemployment is very high. The agricultural sector has been affected massively by the Northern American Free Trade Agreement with the US.
Young people have no jobs and no opportunities—but they find it really easy to get into the drug gangs.
It’s been such a big failure for the PAN that it’s helped the PRI. Ever since 2006 the PRI has been pushing Peña Nieto as the next president.
On 11 May Peña Nieto went to give a talk at one of Mexico’s elite private universities. Lots of people protested and disrupted it—and asked awkward questions about his role repressing protests in Atenco six years previously.
The PRI said that only 131 of the people there were genuine, with the rest sent in by Obrador. So people started saying “I am number 132”.
There have been tens of thousands of people on our protests—students, workers and peasants. It’s not the same as 2006, because Peña Nieto won by 7 percent. It’s possible that even without all the irregularities he would have won. But that doesn’t make the election legitimate.
He paid the media to promote him and sink Obrador—something forbidden by the constitution. Videos have been uploaded suggesting that ballot boxes were tampered with, even burned. And there was certainly a lot of vote buying.
The protests have continued since the election. Both Obrador and the PAN candidate have contested the result. The legal mechanisms to overturn the election are there, and it looks like the evidence is too.
But it’s in the people’s hands. Already there are many thousands protesting. If people in Egypt can defeat a far stronger regime, then why not in Mexico?