During the current presidential campaigns in Mexico, young social media users are setting the political agenda in ways never seen before.
Using social media tools, young college students called over 46,000 people to take the streets of Mexico City’s downtown last May, 19th. Their goal: to show how many of them will not cast a vote for the presidential front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto. Because of their tactics, the student movement in Mexico has been compared with the Arab Spring. Their protests show a growing anti-PRI sentiment among young voters but their demands have more similarities with Russian discontent against Vladimir Putin’s return to power than the Arab spring.
Earlier that week, Peña Nieto left a top private university in Mexico City after students booed him and questioned his human rights record as former governor of Estado de México. Their message was clear: young and first time voters are against the return of PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years. After the protests, a student movement was born under the name “Yo Soy 132” (I am 132) after 131 students confirmed their participation on those protests.
Their movement is comprised of middle class young voters from private and public universities and their protests are spreading across Mexico. These young activists demand media transparency on electoral coverage, and they pay particular attention to the country’s television duopoly.
Voters under the age of 29 compose more than half of total Mexican population. They are educated, urban, and addicted to social media, therefore, they set the agenda of the political campaign. Despite a low number of Internet users in the country (a third of the population), Mexicans are heavy users of Twitter and Facebook, according to both companies. In 2009, a Twitter based campaign stopped a bill to tax internet service providers and last year, a similar online protest managed to free two citizens jailed under charges of libel in the state of Veracruz.
So far, Emilio Azcárraga, owner of Mexico’s largest media conglomerate Televisa, ceded to students’ pressure to broadcast the next presidential debate on national TV next Sunday, June 10th. On May 6th, the two main broadcasters sparked controversy when they opted to show the first presidential debate on channels with a limited coverage due to a soccer playoff game. “Yo Soy 132” also defies the TV duopoly and their members demand more competition on the TV industry.
The four presidential candidates curtail young voters who face high unemployment rates even those the more educated ones. This reality happens during a historical period when the country’s working-age population outnumbers children and retirees.
In the case of Russia recently, Putin won the election despite public discontent due to corruption scandals and claims of electoral fraud. The same might be true in Mexico.
Mexicans fear that corruption practices are still embedded in PRI politics after the national press unveiled embezzlement accusations against two members of this political party: the union leader of the state owned oil company Pemexand the former governor of Tamaulipas who is investigated by U.S. authorities for money laundering operations. Trailing Peña Nieto voters’ preferences are the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Josefina Vázquez Mota, from the conservative party PAN and the first female candidate from a major Mexican party.
Young voters, in the meantime, have staged a backlash against the candidates with viral videos of their stumbles, but they have also created online communities to endorse their favorite candidates. Supporters of the PRI candidate created Ectivismo, where users can get a pompadour in the candidate’s fashion. They also are on PRIbook, a Facebook style network for PRI fans. AMLO.si is a website to support the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador “AMLO”. The website displaying pictures of Mexicans living abroad who support AMLO, despite in his previous campaign he backfired “privileged classes”. Claiming that pollsters got their results wrong, young voters created a Facebook poll that shows a very different picture of voting trends, although their methodology is not validated.
Fearing electoral fraud, student leaders are set to monitor elections to denounce any irregularities, and in the near future, they might become a political force difficult to ignore for the next Mexican president.