Opinion: Today’s elections in Mexico are cleaner than in the past
The Wilson Center’s Eric Olson spent the day with election observers in Mexico. Here’s his take on how things went today.
By ERIC OLSON
Mexicans go to the polls today to cast ballots for president, congress, and in some areas local authorities. There are roughly 77 million registered votes, with an expected turn out of around 60%.
I left early this morning with a friend and his daughter who is serving as “president” of a voting station. We arrived at 7:30 a.m. to set up the voting station in a large garage in a middle class house on the far southside of Mexico City. Voting was due to start at 8 a.m., but the ballots were still being counted and checked by the various electoral officials and party reps at 8:30, with voters beginning to line up. Voting finally got underway at 9 a.m. The mood seemed good. People were patient and understanding.
Mexico`s modern electoral system is relatively young — dating back to 1997. Prior to that, elections had been stacked against the opposition and on election day, fraud was commonplace. The system was perfected to such an extent that one party - the PRI - dominated every level of government for 71 years, losing control of the presidency for the first time in 2000.
The overriding question today is whether Mexicans will decide to elect Enrique Peña Nieto as their new president and thus restore the PRI to the presidency after a 12-year hiatus and two PAN presidents. Most national polls gave a clear advantage to the PRI for the presidency, in congressional and governor races. The question on everyone’s mind is what will this mean?
Several people I have talked to over the past few days in Mexico City have said they are afraid of a PRI return. They are afraid of the party’s past practices of using government resources to ensure their permanence in power, and their abusive and sometimes arrogant ways.
Others have said Mexico needs the PRI. The past 12 years have been marked by economic disappointment, shockingly high rates of violence, and a government that does not seem to have a handle on things. For many, there is a yearning for a more efficient government capable of delivering on its promises.
2012 is clearly not the 1990s or 80s. Vote buying and fraud are still possible, but not the kind of massive efforts to subvert the public will as was orchestrated in 1988. Opposition parties are better organized and have representatives at roughly 96% of voting stations. National and international observers have fanned out throughout the country. The press, while highly concentrated in TV coverage, is still more open than ever with smaller, independent outlets playing an important monitoring role. Social media is making a major appearance for the first time with mobilized young people and students (many a part of the “I AM 132” movement) heading to polling stations to monitor and post updates about the process.
The one issue of great concern is possible violence in areas where organized crime has its largest and most threatening presence. There was speculation early in the campaigns that organized crime would attempt to threaten, intimidate, and disrupt the voting process. So far, they have been eerily silent. There are instances of violence, but no widespread escalation or few direct actions against candidates or campaigns. That could change, of course, but for now they seem to be awaiting the results as much as anyone.
So in the end, while the process may not be perfect, and there are risks of violence in some areas and possible manipulation in others, Mexican generally seem satisfied with the electoral process and welcome the opportunity to participate. The results of this election won’t be known until later tonight and officially certified until later this week, but for now one can simply congratulate Mexico and Mexicans for their commitment to electoral democracy and participation.
(Photo: Manuel Rueda)