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Will we see a 'Mexican Spring'?

Op-Ed

A student-led, social media-driven protest movement has become a key force for societal accountability.

June 24, 2012|By Guillermo Trejo

Public opinion surveys show that Mexico's youth — like the rest of the electorate — had initially accepted Peña Nieto's law-and-order message and the PRI's self-portrait as an experienced party that could solve the country's unprecedented drug war violence. But the incident at Ibero-American University and the subsequent manipulation of it by the media alerted the students to the fact that an uncontested PRI victory could be the prelude to a return to old authoritarian practices. Mexico could be the next Russia and Peña Nieto the Mexican Putin.

Young voters and independents have begun to migrate by default toward Lopez Obrador, who has become Peña Nieto's major challenger, while support for the candidate from the incumbent National Action Party, or PAN, has begun to languish. This has opened the possibility of strategic voting: PAN voters and independents leaning toward their second choice — the leftist PRD — to avoid returning the PRI to power. The question is whether the student movement's message will trigger enough anti-PRI sentiment to prevent a PRI victory on July 1. Evidence from the latest poll trackers suggests that the initial anti-PRI sentiment triggered by the movement may be reaching its limits.

Whatever its final electoral effect on the presidential election, Mexico's student movement has joined the movement of victims of the war on drugs as a powerful force for societal accountability. In a country where democratic institutions prevent, rather than facilitate, electoral accountability, social pressure from below has become a crucial means to keep political elites in check. In a country where political elites and the mainstream media continuously try to thwart the citizens' voice, the sound and fury of the streets have become a beam of hope — a hope for a "Mexican Spring."

Guillermo Trejo is an assistant professor of political science at Duke University and the author of the forthcoming book, "Popular Movements in Autocracies."

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