Enrique Peña Nieto has just about clinched the Mexican presidency after coming out of Sunday’s election with a 7 percent lead.
He is a candidate of the PRI party, which has been out of power in Mexico since its 70-year stint as the ruling party ended in 2000.
The election, which happens every six years, was a close contest with high voter turnout and some charges of corruption. Monday night the final tally should be announced, but at this point it’s all but assured that Peña Nieto will be the victor.
I spoke with Roberto Juarez-Garza, a Mexican citizen who just finished his graduate degree in International Relations at the University of Washington. Prior to his graduate degree, he worked in Seattle for five years for the Mexican government.
Juarez-Garza is now back home in Monterrey, Mexico where he filled me in on the atmosphere surrounding the presidential election results this morning.
What are the main issues in this presidential election as opposed to six years ago?
I think the main difference is the actual candidate of PRI, Peña Nieto. The PRI was ruling Mexico for more than 70 years. But last time the candidate was really not the best fit. Peña was able to overcome all these prejudices on the PRI candidates and try to show that he was from a new generation.
What changes do you think Peña Nieto will bring to Mexico?
Based on what he said in his victory speech, he’s going to be really open to working with the rest of the parties. He will have a slight majority in the Mexico congress, which is a really good thing for him. Regardless, he said he’s going to work with everyone in society. He hasn’t said anything about actual policy or any particular decision-making. It’s just really remarkable to hear that he’s really open.
Do you see any negative changes to Mexico that could come from Peña Nieto’s presidency?
I think one of the negative things I see is that he’s still surrounded by the old guard of the party: people who are really used to engaging in corruption practices since the ‘80s or early ‘90s. Some of them have key positions in his campaign staff and the congress party majority. The people who know how to run government businesses under the table are still there, they’re part of the party, and I think that’s one of the main challenges he’ll have to overcome, to make a difference and to keep these people at bay.
There’s been an increase in violence and social unrest during Felipe Calderon’s presidency because of his aggressive action against drug cartels. Did that violence affect the race and do you think that will affect the presidency?
I think it was definitely a campaign issue, but it worked both ways. Some people thought it was bad, it was something they didn’t find effective and there were other parts of the country that actually thought it was the way to go, and they voted for continuity [of Calderon's party]
What kind of ways are people using social media to voice their opinions about the election?
I think they’re using mostly Twitter. But I saw that mostly the Twitter users were against the front-runner. For some reason his social media campaign was not that effective or successful. So most people on twitter were voicing their discontent for seeing Peña winning. Facebook was not that active, but you could feel the overall sentiment of defeat.
Can you tell me about the student protests surrounding this election?
The first one took place in May and then it changed into a movement. The movement kept doing demonstrations across Mexico City mostly, and last night they gathered at the Mexico City main square and they held candles.
They had a really strong voice during the campaign. They were against Peña, because he had been treated very favorably by the two main national TV stations. So all these students had this fear of Peña being supported, not officially, by the media establishment in Mexico. Their demand was that it was wrong for democracy and that Peña shouldn’t win because he was helped by the national media establishment.
Did the protests have any significant affects on this election?
I think the best achievement of these protests was to engage more students in driving them to the voting booths. Because they weren’t endorsing a particular candidate, it was difficult to know if their success was really that successful in terms of driving people to the voting booth.
Voter turnout was reported to be 62%, which is higher than in past elections, what do you think caused more people to show up to vote?
This campaign was only 90-days-long, which was much shorter than other campaigns. This helped in the way that people were not fed up with politics, so they still remained engaged and enthusiastic in voting. Another important thing was that the election was a toss-up. No one really knew who was going to win. That will always drive more people to vote.
Were there any reports of fraud in the election?
There were many reports of people cheating. And all those cheating practices were charged to the PRI, because of their whole campaigning style. They had this concept of ‘terrestrial’ strategy, which is a strategy to gain votes by land. That would include buying votes or paying people to bring other people to vote for them. There were reports of the PRI buying votes. They required voters to take a picture of their ballot with their cell phone. And if they could show all these people that they voted with their party, then they could get up to 1000 Pesos (about $90).
This interview was edited for length