Witnessing the Mexican Presidential Election

Two days before the election, my family and I were sitting in the living room. The balcony’s window was open. Our conversation was suddenly drowned out by a mix of noises from outside — car horns honking, people chanting far away. There was a sense of tension in the air.

We realized that people were marching toward Televisa Chapultepec, Mexico’s main TV station, which has been heavily criticized for monopolizing information and favoring Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which dominated the country for 71 years until 2000.

On Twitter and Facebook, people posted that the march was by the student movement Yo Soy 132, which originated at the Ibero-American University after a group of students protested a campaign appearance by Peña Nieto and ousted him from the university.

Protesters gathered at Monumento a la Revolución

The march began at Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco with around 3,000 people. As they marched towards Televisa Chapultepec and the Zocalo plaza, the numbers of protesters increased dramatically, to more than 150,000. It’s difficult to know exactly how many people were there; no media outlet gave an official count.

The TV station’s building was guarded by at least a hundred riot police, according to the news site Vanguardia.

It was a peaceful rally. As the protesters marched, carrying candles and posters, bystanders peeked through their windows, pointed to the protesters, laughed and closed the curtains.

When I walked by Televisa Chapultepec a few days before the march, I spotted flyers advising employees not to wear their badges when going out to lunch, for safety reasons.

A few days later, I signed up to be an electoral observer at one of the polling stations, along with my mother, my sister and my friend, because I wanted to witness the process.

Protesters held signs that read (from left to right): "No to the PRI's comeback. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is the strength. I don't sell my homeland for a few pesos"; "Mexico: a PRImitive country"; "If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever. -- George Orwell"; "Mexico is a masochist country. Are we going to continue like this? Denis Dresser #NoMás."

I got a yellow folder with a pen, a document stating my status as an observer, an incident sheet and a form to write down the final results of the polling place after the votes were counted and published in what’s called a manta, a poster that every polling place is required to post outside.

The results published in every manta must correspond to those counted and entered in the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), as well as those in the Program for Preliminary Electoral Results (PREP), also known as the fast count.

Each representative receives a folder with information collected at the end of the day, and goes to the IFE to make sure that the votes correspond to those being entered on the screen.

"I am nonpartisan but I am not blind."

My day as an electoral observer began at 6 a.m. Volunteers took breaks whenever they could to go to vote, then continued observing.

A typical voting day would have ended at about 6 p.m., and volunteers would have started counting the votes. But on July 1, people were still counting votes in polling stations at 10 p.m.

At the polling station where I volunteered there were four tables with people counting votes for local and federal government offices.

By 11:45 p.m., Leonardo Valdés Zurita, the IFE’s presidential advisor, had declared Enrique Peña Nieto the winner. Immediately after Zurita’s announcement, President Felipe Calderón announced that Peña Nieto was the clear winner.

Later I heard on the news that Peña Nieto declared his victory based on only 10 percent of the vote.

By midnight, most local and international media had declared him the winner.

At the polling station, we all looked at each other, perplexed. We looked at the votes in our hands, while on the radio a journalist was announcing what was happening.

The news was the same everywhere. The media and then state and international officials were congratulating Peña Nieto. He declared himself as the winner that night, and proceeded to celebrate.

Meanwhile, students were outside the IFE, protesting.

People marched to the Zócalo. Social media were flooded with videos showing people who weren’t able to vote and other voting irregularities around the country, but no one was talking about that in the local media.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the candidate of the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), held a press conference that night and said that he would ask for a recount of the votes.

All this happened in an hour.

Suddenly it was all over, and there was nothing more on TV. People’s reactions could only be seen on social media platforms, and out in the street in protests.

Peña Nieto celebrated the victory in his party’s headquarters with his supporters and his wife, a famous telenovela actress. They waved to their audience as green, white and red papers fell from the ceiling — like a presidential victory on a soap opera.

Since the results were made official, Peña Nieto has restricted the number of interviews he grants. The night of the election, his team took only five questions, “because time is tight,” he said. Peña Nieto was interviewed by the New York Times, the BBC and El País, and seemed indifferent to what was happening in the streets.

"Not because they want to impose that two plus two is five does it mean it will be true. YoSoy132!"

In a recent interview with the BBC, a journalist asked Peña Nieto what he thinks of the videos of the PRI buying votes that are flooding social media. Reports of his party paying for votes went viral during the election and are still being passed around online. For a moment Peña Nieto appeared nervous, stuttering and insisting on seeing proof of the accusations.

More than a week after the election, we’re still waiting on a recount that could take months.

Since the initial results were announced, the Associated Press has confirmed that the official count shows that Peña Nieto won by a 6.6 percent margin. Lopez Obrador is still demanding a recount, and said on Monday that he would legally challenge the results because of accusations of overspending and vote-buying by the PRI.

In the street these past few days, people have been looking at each other and trying to start conversations, to see if others have more information than they do.

2 Comments

  1. KC

    fantastic, very compelling article!

  2. Elizabeth

    Thanks for this article (Mission Local & Andrea Valencia). I just came back from a trip to Oaxaca, where there was a lot of protesting against the electoral irregularities. Many people were complaining of not being able to vote (most were people from d.f. or other states and districts who were not able to vote because they ran out of special ballots – which in itself seemed really problematic). We also heard about votes being bought, but we they weren’t able to prove it yet…sounds like now there is a lot more proof of PRI buying votes. Thanks again for this coverage.

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