Mexican residents eye presidential election on Sunday

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Young voters could make the difference

By Pat Faherty

Before Americans start celebrating July 4th, some residents will turn their attention to Mexico as our neighbor to the south holds its presidential election on Sunday.

The Mexican presidential election takes place every six years, but this time the process has been streamlined and well-publicized to encourage more voter participation by Mexicans living abroad.

It is only the second time that Mexican citizens living outside the country have been eligible to vote. The first time, in 2006, would-be voters found the process restrictive and bureaucratic and there were costs associated with mailing and registering a ballot.

As of last week, the Instituto Federal Electoral, the public organization responsible for organizing Mexico’s federal elections, was expecting about 45,500 votes from the United States in this year’s election, The agency was anticipating about 3,000 votes from Florida, with some of those coming from Gadsden County.

To encourage participation in the election by Mexicans living in Gadsden County, the Instituto Federal Electoral sent prepaid mailing envelopes for prospective voters to the Migrant Education Program office in Quincy

The small number of absentee votes expected from the United States is based on the number of mailed-out ballots. Numerically, these votes would not be expected to have any real impact in an election that will draw from the nation’s 70 million-plus registered domestic voters.

But putting it in some perspective, the Migrant Policy Institute points out in a background article on its website that in Mexico’s 2006 presidential election, less than 1 percent of the vote separated winning candidate Felipe Calderon from the second-place candidate, Lopez Obrador.

It was so close, Lopez Obrador famously did not concede and for months the candidate and his followers claimed victory.

Lopez Obrador is back and the main four candidates, including Mexico’s first-ever woman running for president, in 2012 are:

  • Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador
    Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD)
  • Enrique Peña Nieto
    Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)
  • Josefina Vazquez Mota
    National Action Party (PAN)
  • Gabriel Quadri de la Torre
    New Alliance Party (PNA)

Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, the PRD candidate had held the number two spot in most of the polls up until this week. He heads the ticket for a left-leaning coalition party. He became know internationally in 2006 when, after barely losing the presidential election to Felipe Calderon, he organized a large protest that briefly shut down Mexico City.

According to a variety of polls, Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI candidate, has been the front-runner by a comfortable margin; however, organized student opposition has dogged his campaign. Some fear returning the PRI to power would mean a return to the past. The party had controlled Mexico for more than 70 years (1929-2000) and was known for corruption and election fraud.

Josefina Vazquez Mota, the PAN candidate, hopes to become Mexico’s first female president. Her party has been in power for the past 12 years, but she has worked to distance herself from the current administration. As of this week, some polls had her even with Obrador.

Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, the PNA candidate hashad a lock on the low spot in the polls. Before announcing his candidacy he was relatively unknown, He has been described as an environmentalist and wants to reform the state-owned oil industry and privatize a large part of it.

The four candidates share Mexico’s top issue, the war on drugs and the related deadly spillover violence. Each has proposed various solutions.

“Drug trafficking is the major issue in Mexico because almost 6 years of the Calderon government has produced almost 60,000 deaths and the Mexicans are fed up with violence and bloodshed,” said Dr. Bruce Bagley, who is with the University of Miami Department of International Studies. “More than 60 percent of all Mexicans feel that the war on drugs has been a failure and has not solved their problems.”

Bagley does not see much of a solution coming in the next years.

As for the role Mexico’s drug cartels are playing in this election, Bagley said, they have channeled drug money into the election to get candidates willing to work with them, to turn the other way and to tolerate their activities. “They are equal-opportunity corrupters,” Bagley said.

David Peñaflor, with the Migrant Education Program in Quincy, recalled the voting difficulties of the 2006 election and the improvements this year to encourage more participation in 2012.

He said there is considerable local interest in the race, especially among young people fueled by the Internet and social media, and they are anxious to exercise their right to vote.

It’s an aspect he is quite familiar with, having four sons and a daughter of voting age who do not all share the same political views. “It’s a little war,” he joked. “But I am sure the young people in Mexico will make the difference in this election.”

In fact his youngest son was not 18 during the registration period, but would turn 18 before the election. So being adamant about his right to vote, “he fought for it and went through the process so he could participate,” Peñaflor said proudly.

Peñaflor thinks the race is between Peña Nieto and Lopez Obrador, but said he did not know who the general favorite is among local Mexican voters. “Many people have hope for the leftist Manuel Obrador, because many people felt that he was the winner six years ago, but other people have hope for Vazquez Mota, the PAN candidate.

And of course, he said, there is PRI, which has a huge political machine and a strong organization to get out the votes.

“But I don’t really think anyone knows who is the favorite of the Mexican-American voters,” he said. “Except for the organized blocks.”

Maria Pouncy Migrant Education Program Coordinator pointed out that only Mexican Nationals or Mexican-Americans with dual citizenship can vote.

With little domestic media coverage of the race, Peñaflor said Mexicans living here rely on the Internet and cable TV to follow the campaign. He said the Mexican population in the United States is engaged through Spanish-language television networks such as Univision and Telemundo.

“This is the first way,” he said, “and the second way is through the Internet, which has become a very important way of a providing a balance of opinions.” He explained  that the Internet, especially social media and political blogs, have become popular in this race because many people believe the big TV companies are favoring the PRI party and its candidate, Peña Nieto.

The clerk at Quincy’s Tienda Discolandia and Bakery did not have strong views about the election, but just up West Jefferson Street at El Campesino, a Mexican market, there was no doubt where the owner stands.

“PAN. I want PAN again,” said proprietor Samuel Roman. “They have been in power for two terms and done a lot of good. The PRI kept the people down.”

As for the expected low voter turnout of Mexican-Americans, Bagley is not surprised. Most of them this time are not particularly concerned with the election in Mexico and not highly motivated to vote, he said. Neither the Mexicans nor most analysts expect the Mexicans living here to go out of their way to vote.

Peñaflor concluded that the three major parties will have to work together after the election, but whoever wins will be the president of all Mexicans.