The idea of Mexicans re-electing a party which governed the country for 71 years in what the author Mario Vargas Llosa has called a “perfect dictatorship” is a terrifying prospect for young “netizens”.
Using the hash tag #yosoy132 (“I’m 132”) students have taken to twitter to denounce the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico’s former ruling party, and the media who some young people believe is biased towards them.
The online campaign “is an answer to the corruption and impunity of the rulers of our country, it is hope for Mexico,” Francisco Casahonda Rodríguez, a student from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and campaign organiser told Al Jazeera. “#yosoy132 is a new idea of democracy for Mexico; it's a building process which includes demands and feelings from the society.”
In the latest opinion survey, where the consulting company Mitofsky took the average of six different polls, the PRI was leading its nearest challenger from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) by 13 per cent, while the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN) is running a distant third.
“At the beginning, the movement #YoSoy132 started asking for more competition in the media business,” Edgar Braham, a PRI supporter and student from the Autonomous Technological Institute Mexico City (ITAM) told Al Jazeera. “But as the time for the elections comes closer, the movement turned out to have a strange sympathy for the arguments that the radical left in Mexico.. specifically Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador [the leader of the PRD], have been carrying throughout the campaign.”
The movement began on May 11, 2012 after Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI’s presidential candidate and former state governor, gave a lecture at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City, the capital.
One of the major issues raised was the clash between farmers and the state´s security forces in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. The incident allegedly involved various human rights violations, including sexual abuse against women, and the deaths of two civilians at the hands of security services.
“I made quite clear the government's firm determination to respect the rights of the population in the State of Mexico,” Peña Nieto told Iberoamericana University students when responding to a question about the events in Atenco. "I decided to employ the use of force to restore public order and peace, unfortunately incidents were duly punished and that those responsible for the facts were consigned to the judiciary. It was a particular action that I took personally, to restore order and peace in the legitimate right of the Mexican state of using the police, and this was validated by the Supreme Court of the Nation."
The reactions were instant. Amid shouts and boos, the candidate quickly decided to abandon the event; critics say his departure looked more like an escape.
On the morning of May 11, what began as an informal complaint about repression in Atenco and other issues became known as the “Black Friday” of the election campaign.
The PRI said students were being used by their political opponents to stir unnecessary controversy.
Students responded to the charges by uploading a video on YouTube called,“131Students at the Ibero respond”. On the video, the students displayed their faces, student numbers and names in an attempt to show that they were not being organised by other political factions.
Across Mexico, other students went online to declare their sympathy with their colleagues at Iberoamericana University. Many wanted to be “Student 132”, or the next person to join the 131 protesting students. The hash tag on twitter #Yosoy132 would soon appear to group political protest tweets on issues ranging from the alleged Atenco repression to political corruption, media bias and education.
About 15,000 students took to the streets of the capital in May, according to city officials, in one of several protests across the country. Protesters complained about media manipulation, alleging that Televisa, the largest news broadcaster in Mexico, was biased in favour of the PRI’s candidate. They also said that a victory for the PRI’s Peña Nieto would increase corruption.
“It’s almost starting to look like a movement,” according to an LA Times report about the protests.
The diversity of the protesters and the issues motivating them could be considered a blessing and a curse. Will they unify behind a particular candidate? Are the students being used as pawns for partisan political gain? And what will be the reaction of students if the PRI does win the election, as many pollsters predict?
Students who support the PRI, protesters from the #yosoy132 campaign will face off in a debate moderated by Al Jazeera’s Franc Contreras on Google Hangout, this Wednesday, June 13, at 18:00 GMT (1:00 pm Mexico City time, 9:00 pm Doha time).
We invite you to follow our twitter hash tag #AJdebate and to post your questions to the activists.