Voter discontent in Mexico is high, and a debate rages over how best to send the political class a message of disgust in Sunday’s midterm elections.
Some academics, artists and protesters urge the nation’s 83.5 million voters to nullify or deface their ballots, even holding up signs along Mexico City’s main boulevard this week calling for such action.
Others exhort voters to take advantage of a newly opened electoral system and shun traditional party politicians, perhaps electing an independent for the first time as governor of one of Mexico’s most prosperous states.
Whatever path they choose, voters – many of them in a foul mood – will replace the 500-seat lower house of Congress, select nine out of the 32 state governorships, and elect legislators and mayors in 16 states.
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Once ballots are counted, either late Sunday or early Monday, the midterm election could allow President Enrique Pena Nieto’s ruling party and allied parties to maintain a shaky majority in Congress until his term ends in 2018.
A spike in violence, some by criminal gangs but mostly by angry teachers in the southwestern states of Michoacan, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, threatens the vote. Protesters have blocked highways, blockaded gas stations and set fires at election facilities.
At least seven candidates have been gunned down across the nation.
Despite the violence and indications that well-oiled political machinery will keep the status quo, signs are rising that voters are disaffected not just because of a sluggish economy, a drumbeat of corruption scandals and unsettling problems with criminal mayhem. A growing number question the political system itself.
“Mexican elections are an absolute farce,” actress and writer Ofelia Medina said in Spanish in a video posted last month on YouTube. “No party has any ethics at all.”
Medina and scores of other prominent figures have gotten behind the campaign to deface ballots rather than filling them in.
Political analyst Denise Dresser, who supports the campaign, said by casting nullified ballots voters would send a message about “an electoral system that functions very well for the parties but very poorly for the citizenry.”
“Don’t feel bad for nullifying your vote,” said another supporter of the campaign, Sergio Aguayo, a political scientist and human rights activist at the Colegio de Mexico, a prestigious academic center.
A radical leftist politician, Marti Batres, urged voters not to spoil their ballots.
“A null vote is abstentionism. It is not voting for anyone or anything. As its name implies, it is void, nothingness,” he tweeted Wednesday.
The “null vote” campaign has gathered enough steam that it’s been debated at the National Electoral Institute, the agency running the vote. The institute says nullified votes averaged 4.1 percent in midterm elections in 1991, 1997, 2003 and 2009, although in that last election it rose to 5.4 percent.
“There are a lot of citizens, like me, who don’t trust any of the political parties,” Jose Antonio Crespo, a historian and political analyst at the Center for Research and Teaching of Economics, said on an interview program at the institute.