After the polls closed in Mexico on June 7, embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto stepped up to claim a victory that he didn’t win.
“In Mexico, democracy advances,” he declared triumphantly in a polished television address. He announced that the Mexican people had expressed their will through institutions and channeled their differences through the democratic system.
Though there are calls throughout Mexico for the president to step down, there was nothing conciliatory about his speech. He called the voter turnout — which fell just under 50 percent — a “mandate to reject violence and intolerance and work together toward prosperity and peace.” He touched only obliquely pre-electoral conflicts over protesting teachers, disappeared students, and other controversies. He threw down the gauntlet to the thousands who have protested neoliberal educational and privatization reforms by concluding: “The reforms are going forward.”
But in reality, the results of the elections were far from a vote of confidence for Peña Nieto’s government — or even for the electoral system itself.
Punishment of the Major Parties
With more than 2,000 posts up for grabs — including the whole lower house of Congress and nine governorships — Mexicans turned out at a rate of around 48 percent. That’s high for a midterm, when the presidency isn’t up for a vote.
Yet that participation hasn’t dissipated discontent. Mexico’s incoming politicians will face as much — or even more — protest and mistrust as the old ones. Polls showed that an astounding 91 percent of those surveyed don’t trust the political parties, and only 27 percent are satisfied with the level of democracy in Mexico.
In other words, people voted even when they had little faith in the system or the results. In some cases voters might’ve had real enthusiasm for candidates, but in others people opted for the lesser of evils, took money for votes, or were coerced by employers. To interpret that as a unified statement in support of institutions that most people believe are corrupt is a purposeful error designed to paper over deep and growing dissent.
All the major parties — the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), and the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) — suffered setbacks.
The PRI lost around a dozen seats in the Chamber of Deputies, though it will still control a majority of seats thanks to a coalition with the Green and New Alliance Parties. Peña Nieto took the result as an endorsement of his administration, yet polls show that 85 percent of Mexicans don’t trust the president, and 60 percent believe that corruption has increased during his administration. So continued PRI control could actually raise the temperature of the pressure pot Mexico is rapidly becoming.
Peña Nieto has suffered months of bad press. Investigators published exposés about a mansion purchased for his family by a major government contractor, and other dubious dealings have affected him and members of his administration. His popularity plummeted after his administration first ignored then blocked an investigation into the case of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa and alleged extrajudicial executions in Tlatlaya. To top it off, the economic outlook for Mexico has been repeatedly readjusted downward since the year began.
The conservative PAN maintained its level of about 20 percent of the national vote. It will govern in Baja California Sur and the central state of Queretaro.
The PRD, though, won only 10 percent of the vote, losing some 40 congressional seats. Its downfall reflects the strong showing of the Movement for National Regeneration, or MORENA, a new party split off from the PRD and led by former PRD presidential candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador. MORENA gained about 8.5 percent of the vote, a significant showing for its first time out. It snatched the majority in the Mexico City Assembly and at least five of the city’s 16 boroughs from its progenitor.