Mexico: Allegations of Fraud Follow Peña Nieto

Disdain for Mexico's new president, who will be inaugurated on Saturday, has surged this week online.

Enrique Peña Nieto will be inaugurated as the new president of Mexico on Saturday, but allegations of voter fraud have persisted long after the election, leaving many Mexicans distrustful of their new leader.

The disdain for the new president surged on Twitter this week with the trending phrase #EnriquePeñaNietotienemiedo or #EnriquePeñaNietoisafraid. It started as a reaction to increased security in Mexico City in advance of the new president’s inauguration. A steel blockade has been placed around the legislative palace and some on Twitter have compared it to the Berlin Wall. Nearby subway stops also have been closed. The security perimeter is more than three miles long.

“The Berlin Wall that EPN ordered to build at Mexico is the clear example of imposition and anti-democracy,” tweeted Rubi Marin, a musician from Mexico City and Los Angeles.

“He could buy the presidency, but he can’t buy honor,” another Twitter user wrote in Spanish, using the handle Todos_Somos_132, a reference to the student movement Yo Soy 132, which has planned protests in the Mexican capitol on Saturday.

During the campaign, the student movement used social media to organize protests against Peña Nieto, and their demonstrations continue on university campuses across Mexico. Motivating the protesters are allegations that Peña Nieto’s political party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), gave gift cards to voters to shop at a popular Mexican food chain store called Soriana. The PRI denies the charges.

The party, which Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa once called “the perfect dictatorship,” has a long history of corruption. It governed Mexico for more than 71 years, but in 2000 lost to the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN). The PAN has governed ever since, but under outgoing President Felipe Calderon, the country’s drug war escalated and resulted in more than 50,000 deaths.

Among the staunchest critics of the new president: Mexico’s literati. Last year at the International Book Fair of Guadalajara, Peña Nieto, then a candidate, embarrassed himself while campaigning. He stumbled when he couldn’t recall the names of three books that had influenced him.

“He could have at least said The Three Little Pigs or Snow White,” said Silvia Martinez, a writer from Guadalajara, who attended this year’s book fair on Thursday. “I can’t believe a man who rose to the presidency couldn’t remember the names of three books that had influenced his life.”

Juan Flores, a student at the University of Guadalajara who attended the book fair, said that few people in Mexico trust the government. “He is being manipulated by a third party,” Flores said of the new president, implying that party elders are actually calling the shots.

Nestor Ramirez, a book promoter from Mexico City was equally pessimistic.

“We are going back to the same party,” he said. “I don’t even have hope that the country will get better.”

Peña Nieto received less than 40 percent of the popular vote because the majority of Mexicans voted for candidates from three other political parties. Still, his election was certified, and now he is working to establish his reputation internationally with visits this week to Canada and the United States. In Washington, D.C., Peña Nieto met briefly with President Barack Obama. They talked about trade and immigration reform. Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Mexico City to attend the inauguration Saturday with a delegation of U.S. officials.

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Among the new president’s supporters is Laura Perez, a retired teacher from Monterrey. “He’s a young man with much desire to lead Mexico,” said Perez, who discounts the allegations of voter fraud. “He is politically prepared and he has a plan.”

Perez, who was browsing for books at the book fair, said that she welcomes the return of the PRI. “Under the PRI we had 70-plus years of social peace,” she said.

However skeptical of their new president, peace is exactly what many Mexicans are hoping will ensue.