- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2012

MEXICO CITY — With signs reading “No to repression!” and “Down with the PRI!” the angry students who have taken the streets of Mexico with flash protests have become the most visible face of youth in the presidential election campaign.

They have challenged the candidates to debates, urged others their age to pay attention to the campaign and sought to fight off the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held power for 71 years until its ouster in 2000.

The college students marching in the protests are among the most privileged of the 24 million young people registered to cast ballots on July 1. At the other end of the spectrum, sit the majority of Mexico’s young who live in poverty, did not graduate from high school and earn less than $10 a day.

Unlike the elections of 2000, when the majority of young voters agreed that the PRI had to go, this campaign season has seen a sharp division among youth along class lines.

Young, educated voters are opposed to the return of the PRI, while the rest of the voters ages 18 to 29 prefer the PRI candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, over his two major rivals.

The widespread student movement narrowed the lead held by the telegenic Mr. Pena Nieto, but he is still well ahead just three weeks before the election.

Among young voters, Mr. Pena Nieto is still the preferred candidate, with 33 percent, which is 8 points ahead of the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and 10 above Josefina Vazquez Mota, the candidate of the current ruling National Action Party (PAN).

The poll was conducted by the firm Mitofsky from June 8 to June 10 with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Youth suffer poverty, unemployment

Though they lack consensus on whom to choose for president, Mexican young people have much at stake. They suffer from the nation’s highest rates of poverty and unemployment. They are the main victims of the six-year-long war against drugs that has left some 50,000 people dead.

“I think they have higher expectations that they deserve better than this,” said Rodrigo Aguilera, the Mexico analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The protesters reject Mr. Pena Nieto for his party’s past. But like young people in general, they are also disillusioned with the ruling National Action Party, which launched the drug war that has become frighteningly brutal. They are also unimpressed with the position of the left, led by former Mexico City Mayor Lopez Obrador.

“Now you don’t even know who to root for,” said Mario Luna Perez, a 27-year-old father of two who quit school after sixth grade and lives in poor town on the outskirts of Mexico City. “It’s all the same, no matter who the president is.”

Mr. Aguilera noted that the student protests have been unusual in that they target what is viewed as unbalanced media coverage, particularly by the nation’s most powerful TV broadcaster, Televisa. The news conglomerate is manipulating news coverage to favor Mr. Pena Nieto, the students claim.

For 22-year-old Melissa Rolland, a student at a private university who attended a recent protest with a poster that read “apathy is society’s worst enemy,” the students have to seize upon the opportunity to be heard.

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