Mexico: presidential race heats up; student protests continue

Former México state governor Enrique Peña Nieto is still favored to win Mexico’s July 1 presidential elections, but polls released at the end of May showed his lead over the other candidates slipping. After being considered the certain winner for months, Peña Nieto, the candidate of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was only four percentage points ahead of former Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a poll published by the conservative daily Reforma on May 31. Peña Nieto led voter intentions with 38%, according to Reforma, down from 45% in March; López Obrador, who is running with a center-left coalition, followed closely with 34%, up from 22% in March; and Josefina Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the governing center-right National Action Party (PAN), came in third with 23%, down from 32% in March.

Three other polls from the same period showed Peña Nieto with a larger lead and López Obrador and Vázquez Mota close to each other in voter intentions. Milenio/GEA-ISA, for example, showed Peña Nieto with 45.9%; López Obrador was far behind with 24.9% and was virtually tied with Vázquez Mota, who had 24.3%. However, most polls agreed that Peña Nieto and Vázquez Mota were losing ground and López Obrador was gaining. “The possibility exists that [the Reforma poll] is going in the right direction, that the contest is moving that way,” Roy Campos, from the rival Consulta Mitofsky polling company, told a reporter. (, Mexico, May 31)

Peña Nieto and his campaign advisers are said to be concerned by the improved numbers for López Obrador, who lost the 2006 presidential race by a very narrow margin in a disputed official count. The left-leaning daily La Jornada reports that PRI leaders don’t believe that López Obrador is just four points behind their candidate–but they also don’t believe Peña Nieto is ahead by 20 or 21 points. The student protests that have started to plague Peña Nieto’s public appearances are another factor worrying the candidate’s advisers, according to La Jornada. (LJ, June 2)

The student movement—widely known as “#YoSoy132” (“I’m number 132”) and sometimes as “Mexican Spring”—appeared suddenly in May to challenge media coverage of the campaign and the perception that the PRI candidate was sure to win. While continuing to march against Peña Nieto and the television networks, the students are now also developing links with other Mexican protest movements.

A meeting at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City on June 1 called on students to participate in the capital’s annual LGBT Pride march the next day and in a protest on June 3 in defense of the Wirikuta, a site in the north central state of San Luis Potosí that is sacred to the Wixárika (Huichol) indigenous group; the Wixárika say the site is threatened by a mining concession granted to the Canadian firm First Majestic Silver Corp (FMS). On June 4 students planned to protest in solidarity with some of the parents of the 49 children that died in a fire in the Guardería ABC, a childcare center in Hermosillo, Sonora on June 5, 2009. (LJ, June 2; Terra, Mexico, June 2)

Correction: Last week’s Update described a May 19 march in Mexico City as sponsored by university students. Students accounted for much of the participation, but no group sponsored the demonstration, which was organized through social networks.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 3

See our last post on the student protests in Mexico.