Today is the day of the Mexican Presidential elections. They only come around once every six years, so it's a pretty important day for Mexico and its people. I happen to find myself in the capital city for voting day and the last few days of talking with new friends and acquaintances has left some impact on me as to the state of the country as seen through the eyes of some of its people. It's also led me to reflect on how I feel about my own country and it's political regime for the last twenty years or so.
Let me preface this by saying that I do believe in democracy and democratic systems. No democratic model is perfect but I do think they make inroads to promoting freedom for citizens. Richard Flanagan is one of my favourite writers and someone whose words I often use. In a recent speech at the Press Club in Canberra, Flanagan was critical of many aspects of Australian politics and misuse of the power given in earnest to politicians through democratic processes. But one thing he said resonated with me.
"Lies are quick but the truth is slow...I'm left believing in very little but I believe in freedom and I believe in truth."
Freedom means different things to different people. I see freedom as a form of opportunity; the more freedom you are afforded the more opportunities you have to choose the path you wish to take in life. If I look at my life up until this point, I would say I've been gifted a lot of freedom.
Last week I was walking through the streets of Oaxaca, not far from the Zocalo, when a piece of street art grabbed my eye. The work showed the faces of four candidates painted in black and white across a bright yellow wall. Above the four heads was scrawled three simple yet powerful words: La Mafia Mexicana or the Mexican Mafia.
Those four faces represented the four candidates running for election today. From what I've gleaned from the last eight months in Mexico, this election is being fought on questions of corruption and misuse of power above all else. Mexicans are sick of being lied to and many people I've talked to don't believe in their government at all.
I sit on the couch with Sebastian as the afternoon light floods the living room of his apartment. A street vendor's voice drifts up from the street below "Tamaaaales oaxaqueñoooossssssss, tamaaaales oaxaqueñooossssssssssssssss." Sebastian is not going to vote in the election today. He has decided to wave his democratic right to influence the election result. His eyes tell the most important story - it pains him to have come to this point but he doesn't wish to participate in a process which despite all appearances is a long way from representing a true and fair democracy; a place where the hopes and dreams of citizens are carried out by those in power who are supposed to represent them.
Young people are often criticised for failing to vote. They are seen as being lazy or uninterested; that they are spurning a great opportunity to influence the future of their country. But I don't think this always tells the full story. One thing is true regardless of your opinion on voting: young people in Mexico, and in Australia too, are disenfranchised with the politicians that are meant to be representing them. There's various forms of corruption both in Mexico and in Australia. Mexico's corruption may be a little more obvious, and probably more widespread, but if you peel away the layers in Australia it doesn't take much digging to realise there's entrenched corruption in Australia too. I mean, we're building one of the biggest mines in our country's history right next to our most important natural asset; the Great Barrier Reef. Overworked and underpaid Australians are helping fund it through taxes. If there ain't something funky going on behind the scenes, I'll eat my hat.
The point I'm trying to make is that when intelligent, well informed and well educated young people decide to forgo their opportunity to vote because they don't believe in the elected officials that represent them, then something must be wrong.
Australia faces some of it's greatest challenges at the moment. Our country must deal with issues that strike at the very core of our identity. We must look at how we treat our Indigenous population and the asylum seekers that seek out our island paradise for refuge. We must consider the vital importance of our environment and the threats facing water security, ocean health and much more. The people in power in Australia fail to represent my desires and hopes for our nation in nearly every aspect of policy. I do not say that lightly or feel as though I am exaggerating. Our politics has become little more than a soap opera with petty bickering, name calling and the latest discussions about who's sleeping with who. How did we get here?
I will continue to vote. I will continue to believe in freedom and in the power of the truth. I will continue to hope for a better version of democracy in my country. But I respectfully refuse to believe my hopes and dreams for our country are being fairly represented by the majority of politicians that govern us because it is a fallacy.
The Mexican people elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO for short) in a landslide result. He has been trying to attain power for eighteen years, which included a previously disputed election result that resulted in large protests. AMLO was elected on the pretense that he would reign in endemic corruption and the immense power of Mexican drug cartels. Many are hopeful that this is a new era for Mexico. Others, like Sebastian, are more wary. Only time will tell if AMLO represents little more than another member of La Mafia Mexicana.