The 2012 electoral process is the most uninspiring we’ve seen in recent history. Therefore it’s no surprise that Mexican society is increasingly disenfranchised with the political system. In fact, trust in the political elite is at an all-time low. Where interest groups saw possibilities of working hand in hand with the government in 2000 and 2006, the division between those governing and those being governed grows day by day.
The age group most alien to the electoral process this year will be young adults. A recent UNDP-sponsored study carried out by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) posits that 7 out of every 10 voters ages 18-29 will not turn out to vote due to “disenchantment with Mexican democracy.” Enrique Cuna Pérez, the head of the sociology department at the UAM, points out that Mexican adolescents do believe in democracy but not in the way it is implemented in the country. “Young people are not shying away from democracy as a system, they are shying away from Mexican democracy. They consider themselves as democratic people. They understand the importance of voting but they are not willing to participate in Mexican democracy as it stands today,” says Cuna.
There are many reasons for this. For one, people are finding it harder to believe in and rally for the different candidates. The turn that political campaigns have taken—toward destructive criticism, finger-pointing and whining—is far from inspiring. Since the actual political platforms and proposals show nothing new, candidates are focusing on projecting their persona, trying to get people to believe in them, but they are doing it by saying “you can’t believe in the other candidates” as opposed to showing the country why they are fit to lead.
Enrique Peña Nieto, who according to the latest BGC-Excelsior poll leads the race at 50 percent of voter preference, is doing what he does best: photo-ops with as little speech as possible in the different states he visits. He continues to be the one to beat, though the reason is based more on publicity saturation than substance. Doing what his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) does best, towns all over the country are now flooded with enormous billboards showing the candidate as a man of the people, hugging an over-eager supporter.
Josefina Vázquez Mota’s party, the ruling Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), has recently launched a tactical attack toward Peña Nieto’s credibility, running radio and television spots that label him a liar based on commitments made during his tenure as governor of Mexico state and presumably did not deliver on. While this may be effective in bringing Peña Nieto’s numbers down, the campaign does nothing to engage young voters or to build up a constructive conversation on the future of the country. The candidate will likely use the upcoming presidential debate to take a stab at Peña Nieto’s list of undelivered promises.
And Andrés Manuel López Obrador? He’s been gradually abandoning his more moderate stance and become militant and combatant. Slowly but surely, we start to see the López of old. Worried about the growing trend of this election becoming a two-person race and himself being relegated to a respectable—but distant third—player (the same poll places him dropping to 20 percent of voter preference, 9 points behind Vázquez Mota), he has chosen to go back to accusing “the system” of being against him and the PRI and PAN of working together to minimize his participation in the race. Most recent outbursts include saying that the upcoming presidential debate structure somehow favors the PRI candidate and that the current PRI-PAN confrontation over Peña Nieto’s credibility is “a smoke screen to detract attention from Peña Nieto’s campaign spending.”
But the presidential race is not the only reason young people have stopped believing in Mexican democracy. A lot of it has to do with the negligence shown by the Mexican Congress, which has hijacked President Felipe Calderón’s proposed structural reforms for political means and become completely stagnant. Add to this the level of impudence shown by all parties with regard to the candidates they’ve put forward for upcoming legislative elections and you start to see why a low voter turnout is likely in 2012.
The party lists include such individuals as Dolores Padierna, wife of René Bejarano who in 2004 was the subject of a video scandal showing him taking wads of cash from a shady Argentine businessman. There’s also Fernando Larrazabal, the mayor from Monterrey whose brother Jonás until recently presumably ran an extortion scheme charging casinos for their right to operate. Emilio Gamboa was the subject of a political scandal in 2006 due to a leaked phone conversation linking him to child pornographer Kamel Nacif. With this representing part of the future of Mexico’s Congress, it’s no surprise that young voters want nothing to do with it.
As a result, Mexican electoral politics have hit rock bottom. The political elite would do well to stop ignoring this important trend and work to regain the public’s trust. Otherwise, Mexico’s emerging democracy could prove to be more fragile than they think.