|Youth protest the election of Peña Nieto/Photo: La Jornada, CRodríguez|
The Mexican people are more stunned than excited by Enrique Peña Nieto’s apparent victory in Sunday’s presidential election. No one has taken to the streets to celebrate the return of the old Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI). To the contrary, thousands of youth congregated at the Revolution Monument in downtown Mexico City to protest against the “imposition” of Peña Nieto through media manipulation, vote-buying, and ballot-tampering. Meanwhile, waves of people who sold their vote to the PRI on Sunday in exchange for gift cards flooded local supermarkets on Monday to cash in on their payments.
It is likely that Peña Nieto’s advantage in thepreliminary count, 38 percent to leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s 32 percent, will hold up once the official count is issued at the end of the week and the electoral tribunal later resolves any lawsuits. But the formal, legal recognition of Peña Nieto as Mexico’s new president will not necessarily translate into the public legitimacy he would need to govern the country effectively.
Elections are nothing new in Mexico. The country’s distinct brand of authoritarianism, or “perfect dictatorship,” according to Mario Vargas Llosa, has always used elections to gloss over its public image. The infamous 19th-century dictator Porfirio Díaz won eight elections between 1877 and 1910. The first leader of the Mexican Revolution, Francisco I. Madero, did not take power by force but through elections. Since 1934, Mexico has held presidential elections like clockwork every six years, even during the worst moments of authoritarian politics.
Scholars, therefore, do not have the privilege of being able to identify the advent of democracy in Mexico with the arrival of electoral politics. The big question is not whether elections occur but whether they are free and fair and whether the new president is recognized by the people as their legitimate leader...
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