Mexico’s presidential election is on July 1. And if the polls are right, the vote will mark a comeback for the party that dominated Mexican politics for more than 70 years.
The front-runner is Enrique Peña Nieto, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by its initials in Spanish as the PRI.
Opposition to Peña Nieto’s campaign has inspired a student protest movement that some have dubbed “the Mexican Spring.” It’s called “Yo Soy 132” or “I am 132.”
The movement was named that to express support for 131 university students who were vilified for speaking out against the leading candidate.
The movement held a big rally in downtown Mexico City, drawing a crowd of about 90,000 people.
From talking to the protesters, you’d think the PRI was the current ruling party in Mexico.
“We urgently want a change,” says marcher José Eduardo Saragoza. “That’s why we’re here.”
In fact, the PRI has been out of Mexico’s presidential palace for the past 12 years. But its seven decade rule, from 1929 to 2000, is still resented by many Mexicans. And at the local level, the PRI is still in power in many Mexican states.
So when Peña Nieto promises to be a different kind of PRI president, there’s a lot of scepticism.
“Despite what they say about this being a new PRI, with a new face, for us it’s still the same PRI. The same PRI of repression, lies and authoritarianism,” says organizer Saul Alvidrez. “It’s a PRI that members of this movement aren’t ready to accept.”
The 132 protesters are also critical of Mexico’s two major TV stations, which they accuse of favoring PRI candidates and manipulating the political environment.
The issue heated up recently, after an article by The Guardian newspaper in Britain presented documents alleging Peña Nieto had in the past paid for positive TV coverage.
For marchers like José Eduardo Saragoza, this type of collusion emblemizes the corruption built into the PRI.
“We don’t want a candidate created by the TV stations,” says Saragoza. “We want a real democracy, one where the media itself is democratic, and tells the truth.”
After the protest in Mexico City, a “Yo Soy 132” crowd watched the second and final presidential candidates’ debate on a big screen in the the city’s central plaza, the Zócalo.
“We don’t want you,” they jeered as Peña Nieto made his opening remarks. But Peña Nieto held his own in a debate with few hard questions.
Despite the protests against him, the PRI candidate still enjoys a sizeable lead over leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He lost the 2006 race by the narrowest of margins, something he wishes not to repeat.
“Yo Soy 132” movement organziers know they have an uphill battle, with so little time before the vote on July 1. But they’re determined to keep going.