The Path of #YoSoy132

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “The Path of #YoSoy132“, published on June. 27th, 2012. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

#YoSoy132 has been called many things: “the voice of a new generation;” “the Mexican Spring;” and “young people manipulated by the PRD [Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or Party of the Democratic Revolution]” are just a few. Whatever its true nature, this youth movement has left a new mark on electoral processes in Mexico—one which could shape not only the outcome but the aftermath of the 2012 Mexican elections next Sunday.

It all began on May 11 when Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), belittled a group of student protesters that had gathered at the Universidad Iberoamericana to repudiate his presence there. Peña Nieto called them a small group of rabble-rousers, accused them of not being actual students and minimized their protest to opposition made up of only 131 people.

This led to the students uploading a YouTube video showing their university IDs and claiming that their cause was shared by many more young people. The video went viral and the story spiraled into Twitter via the hashtag #YoSoy132 (“I Am 132”). Without a cohesive agenda or clarity with regards to what “being 132” really meant, people sympathized with the students and began retweeting that they too were 132.

A series of strange events followed, making the nature of the movement even less clear and more confusing. Initially, it seemed that the movement’s sole purpose was to demand objective coverage from the largest television news outlet in the country, which allegedly has given favorable coverage to Peña Nieto’s candidacy. However, allegiance to PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) from some of the movement’s leaders despite being a nonpartisan movement, an inconsistent rhetoric of formally campaigning against Peña Nieto while calling for media objectivity, and conflicting messages from its members have left most Mexicans wondering what it actually means to state that Yo Soy 132

Students attempted to organize; they took to the streets and demanded that the second presidential debate be broadcast over the main TV channels; they held an assembly in order to look for an aligned, common vision. Judging from their concluding declaration and the following fallout of rogue mini-groups, they failed at this objective—but the movement continued to grow in a somewhat chaotic manner. #YoSoy132 was even able to hold a presidential debate on June 19 with an innovative format and the use of internet to connect different students from their homes to pitch questions to candidates. Playing it safe, Peña Nieto declined the invitation to participate.

Recently, the hacktivist group Anonymous, through its Mexico branch, published a video which calls out the federal electoral authority—Institudo Federal Electoral (IFE)—of apparent intention to manipulate the final voting tally in favor of Peña Nieto.

The “preparation for fraud” discourse has been heightened not only by Anonymous, but coincidentally by #YoSoy132 and by AMLO himself. While #YoSoy132 has been threatening that “Si hay imposición habrá revolución” (if there is imposition there will be a revolution), López Obrador has stated that he knows that the PRI is preparing a fraud but his team will be more vigilant to prevent it, similar to his accusations six years ago when he was the presidential runner-up to Felipe Calderón. To make matters more worrisome, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (Popular Revolutionary Army—EPR) guerrilla group has recently applauded #YoSoy132 and stated that they would take AMLO at his word and support taking arms in order to avoid “a neoliberal candidate” seizing power.

For the sake of any functional democratic state, electoral fraud must be avoided. A system of checks and balances which is actually built in to the Mexican democratic system—including observers and scrutinizers, exit polls, citizen participation in the actual vote counting, and other mechanisms—seems to be insufficient. And while one should not be disingenuous and think that that these mechanisms fully prevent fraudulent practices from taking place from any candidate, a bigger danger is now present: What if #YoSoy132, Anonymous, EPR and others simply don’t like the outcome of the election because their choice did not come out on top, fraud or no fraud? What if Peña Nieto actually and fairly wins but AMLO, as in 2006, does not recognize defeat?

In the first weeks of #YoSoy132 emerging, people started comparing the movement to the Arab Spring and specifically the Egyptian deposition of Hosni Mubarak. While there is simply no comparison between the Mubarak regime and Mexico’s current political and institutional reality, there is one thing in common: Whenever a grassroots movement with no clear agenda, vision, values, or follow-through plan is able to cluster different groups together in order to eliminate or threaten a common enemy, it may be effective in damaging or removing the unwanted player from the mix—but dangerously ineffective in providing a long-term outcome which benefits all those who pulled together. Given the current state of Egypt, Mexicans should learn from this example.

Today, apparently #YoSoy132 means “I don’t want Peña Nieto to win”—but for different reasons. Some support the group because they feel traditional media should not be biased. Others like it because they want AMLO to be the next president. A few think that they support Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) by saying they are 132. Anonymous seems to want the IFE to be impartial and EPR says that being 132 means taking arms and not supporting the world’s predominant economic model. Some consider being 132 good and active citizenship; others a call to arms against the establishment.

While I applaud the awakened spirit of youth taking a more active role in this election and hope this will mean a larger young voter turnout than what was projected prior to the movement, as long as there is no consensus about what being 132 means, Yo No Soy 132 and I hope for avoidance of post-electoral violence, no matter who Mexico elects as its president this Sunday.

Mexico’s PAN-PRD Alliance

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “Mexico’s PAN-PRD Alliance”, published on Jan 28th, 2010.

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1184

Here’s a copy of it:

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Mexican politics are frustratingly fascinating

This seems like a paradox, but then again, so does our history as a modern state. With presidential elections 2.5 years away, unlikely candidates and alliances are already beginning to form. This leaving me wondering if this country has any recollection of the political roads we’ve traveled and the costs they’ve instilled on us.

Let’s retrace our steps for a minute. The Mexican Revolution that started 100 years ago was supposed to set the basis for a system, which would alleviate the poverty gap, provide better worker conditions and at the very least, treat citizens with respect and provide the political rights that people lacked.

But this complex era in Mexican history resulted in what Luis Aboites Aguilar called (in a very politically-correct manner) “a political arrangement which made stability possible in the long term.” Along came the time of the PRIismo, an authoritarian regime with a masked one-party system run by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). As they had with Diaz, once again Mexicans deposited their trust in a strong presidential figure who fed them with the possibility of a better tomorrow.

Tired of instability and revolt, society happily welcomed a structure that turned huelguistas (protestors) into sindicalistas (organized union advocates). Far from a democracy, this electoral system continuously rigged elections and left the poor-rich divide unattended, replacing it with a constant rhetoric of “institutionalized revolution.” The message during the first decades of PRIismo was “we’re working on it.”

After their 70-year chance at “institutionalizing revolution” a strong opposition led by a right-leaning party (Partido Acción Nacional–PAN) that had been denied access to power at the federal level was able to bring PRIismo to an end. A young (mostly middle class) generation filled with hope rallied behind soon-to-be-President Vicente Fox under the cry of “Sí se puede” (“Yes, we can”). And on July 2, 2000, yes, they did.

But the 2006 election was characterized by a polarized and heated debate between PAN candidate Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and a charismatic left-wing radical, Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). Left and right battled it out. One crying out against “the rich tyrants that oppressed the peoples” and the other promising that development would result from attracting FDI and promoting employment via a partnership with the private sector. Calderón got the job with 35.9 percent of the vote, only 0.58 percent more than López Obrador.

The aftermath of the 2006 election is well-known: López Obrador did not accept the results, labeled Calderón “The spurious president,” set up camp in Mexico City’s Zocalo, and blocked off Paseo de la Reforma (the city’s most important street).

Now there is a new twist in this long-standing political telenovela. The “Yes we can” promise has not produced expected results, leaving Mexicans disillusioned to the point that many believe the next elections will be a landslide. The assumed victor: the PRI.

But how is the incumbent PAN party preparing to avoid this? With the most unlikely (and ridiculous) of alliances. César Nava, national president of PAN has publicly accepted that his party is working on a deal with the PRD to have joint candidates for the upcoming state elections.

The two political parties that were at each other’s throats three years ago, now say “we have some differences, some topics in which we have different views, but those will be left aside.” It seems that the candidates will run under “unity in our conviction to change things.” Change things into what? I guess they’ll cross that bridge when they get to it.

Do the PAN and the PRD believe that Mexicans have forgotten a country under siege after the candidate from one of these parties would not accept the victory of the other one? And for that matter, have all of us forgotten the empty promises made by the PRI for 70 years? Are we now ready to give them another chance at “working on it?”

I am not sure who is lacking political memory, the political parties or the citizens subject to their game. What I am sure of is that the same reasons that brought turmoil to this country a 100 years ago are present and relevant. We are not ready for history to repeat itself.

*Arjan Shahani is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.