Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Mexico City, decrying what they perceive as election fraud in the recent presidential vote.
This could be the opening line of an article posted back in 2006, when protesters blocked snarling traffic and set up an encampment in one of the world’s largest cities, claiming that election had been stolen.
And many of the actors in this scene of deja vu, including second place presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), have not changed since that election six years ago.
“We have to let the world know there is a clear fraud,” Fabiola Zarate, a young voter in Mexico City, tweeted this week. She called on Mexicans, “regardless of their political affiliations”, to decry the “imposition” of president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), upon the nation’s highest office.
Eduardo Huchim, formerly a senior official with the Electoral Institute of Mexico City, and currently a monitor with Civic Alliance, a UN-funded watchdog, told Reforma newspaper that the July 1 election was “perhaps the largest operation of vote buying and coercion in the history of the country”. Other observers, and Mexico’s electoral authorities, disagree with Huchim’s conclusions.
The protesters who took to the streets of Mexico’s capital on Saturday accuse the president-elect of receiving unfair support from the country’s dominant media, and of buying votes. Smaller protests happened in other states including Jalisco, Morelos, Veracruz and Quintana Roo.
President-elect Pena Nieto told Spain’s El Pais newspaper that he “categorically denies” accusations of fraud or unfair support from the major media.
For the protesters, the results of these demonstrations are almost certain to be the same as in 2006 – the party declared victorious by electoral authorities will take the presidency without much second thought.
In 2006, Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s current president from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), claimed victory after winning by fewer than 250,000 votes – a winning margin over Obrador of less than one per cent.
Street protests in 2006, backed by Obrador who camped out in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square, were a “peaceful movement of civil resistance”, PRD spokesperson Camerino Eleazar told Al Jazeera. “The main objective was to channel the energy of 15 million who were disappointed and felt defrauded after the decision of not reviewing ballot boxes.”
It did not work, and many Mexicans believed Obrador left his Zocalo encampment looking like an opportunistic sore loser.
This time around, the difference between the PRI and the PRD is said to be more than three million ballots – or a margin of 6.5 percentage points. Obrador has denied any involvement in Saturday’s march – but says he will mount a legal challenge to Pena Nieto’s victory.
“I think I only saw two banners of AMLO [Obrador] in the big march,” tweeted one young Mexico City resident. “This goes far beyond a candidate.”
With 500 certified election observers across the country, Civic Alliance said that 28.4 per cent of people they surveyed had been exposed either to vote buying or coercion, Reforma reported. Seventy one per cent of vote-buying or coercion cases benefited the PRI, according to Civic Alliance, with 17 per cent benefiting the PAN and three per cent benefiting the PRD.
Shoppers at Soriana grocery store, for example, told journalists that PRI officials were handing out gift cards in exchange for votes. Many shoppers complained that they were promised cards worth 500 pesos ($37.50) for their vote, but when they turned up to collect, the vouchers were only worth 100 pesos ($7.50). Giving gifts in order to influence someone’s vote is a crime in Mexico.
Eduardo Sanchez, a PRI spokesman, said gift card allegations were a “theatrical representation”, mounted by political opponents.
Young voters in Mexico City, a PRD stronghold, have been posting pictures via Twitter of alleged ballot tampering.
Still, this time around, Mexico City’s popular mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, who comes from the same PRD party as Obrador, won’t want long-term protests and urban encampments to endanger the city’s economy.
A public spat between the two men could be bad for the PRD, as Ebrard reportedly has his sights set on running for president on a PRD ticket in 2018.
Additional reporting from Elizabeth Melimopoulos