Mexico student movement protests presidential election

MEXICO CITY — Propelled by social media, their own frustrations and viral YouTube videos, masses of young people have taken to the streets across Mexico, before and after the presidential election here, to protest the heavy hand of corporate media and alleged fraud at the ballot.

The big question now: What will the youth do next?

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Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — whom the college students in the streets don’t especially like — was declared the next president of Mexico on Sunday night. The second-place finisher, former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whom many young protesters support, said Tuesday that he was contesting the election as “plagued with irregularities” and demanding a full recount.

Election officials said Tuesday that they would conduct a partial recount on about a third of the ballots cast Sunday in districts where the margin between the top two vote-getters was less than 1 percent.

The leftist candidate’s campaign director, Ricardo Monreal, claimed there were irregularities at more than 113,000 of the 143,000 precincts.

The birth of the student movement known as “#YoSoy132” — named after a viral video and a Twitter hashtag — was one of the few spontaneous moments in a staid election dominated by scripted rallies and canned TV events.

Supporters hail it as a replay of the Arab Spring in the Middle East or the Occupy Movement in the United States.

But analysts say they have yet to prove a lasting significance in a country where only a small percentage of young people are enrolled in higher education.

Yet the young activists succeeded in claiming a place on the political stage.

“I understand their demands,” Peña Nieto said in his victory speech Sunday night. “I, too, want a new country.”

The movement has yet to resonate among the majority of less-educated young people who work in low-paying jobs in Mexico.

Exit polls suggest that while Peña Nieto and Lopez Obrador were split among voters ages 18 to 29, Peña Nieto prevailed among Mexico’s least-educated voters, and Lopez Obrador led the college-educated.

Leaders of the movement said they are developing proposals to present to the incoming president, such as an overhaul of Mexico’s much-criticized public education, respect for human rights and the replacement of media dominance by Televisa and TV Azteca.

“Our movement is consolidating,” said Tevye de Lara, a prominent youth activist.

“In media, we are still at the level of a banana republic,” de Lara said. “The PRI governed Mexico for 70 years. There is a historical collusion between the PRI political class and Televisa. Peña Nieto is an example of how someone with a limited intellectual capacity and a poor human-rights record can use the media to come to power.”

Rodrigo Serrano, a founder of the movement, said it has already succeeded in staging the first presidential debate where voters were able to send in questions, and candidates participate in a round-table talk. Peña Nieto declined to appear.

“This movement has shown that citizens can influence an election that was viewed as in the bag, that democracy is not just going to polls to vote; it means participating,” he said. “Now people are learning they can speak face to face with leaders as people, not gods.”

Sociologist Enrique Gonzalez Casanova said the movement’s growth is limited by the social disparities it decries.

Fewer than 3 million Mexicans are enrolled in college, he said.

“For democracy this has huge implications,” Gonzalez said. “But so far, the movement has had no resonance in the polls. It is a big megaphone, without an echo.”

Pollster Roy Campos said the movement could limit itself by adopting partisan positions that alienate potential young supporters who backed Peña Nieto.

But while it was “a total exaggeration” to compare the movement to the Arab Spring, Campos said, “the best thing that happened in the campaign was that a group of young people — elite, well, whatever you want to call them — got involved in politics.”

“It’s good that they demand the impossible,” he said. “Perhaps they are dreamers, but how good that there is someone who dreams. Perhaps the results will not come immediately, but the seed has been planted.”

 
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