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Mexico: The PRI is Back and Gaining Ground

July 9, 2009

by Eugenio Fernández

Last Sunday, Mexico witnessed how the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party (a heterogeneous grouping of right-of-center groups and revolutionary nationalists), reasserted its standing and overtook President Felipe Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) in the elections for Congress, six governors, and municipalities and local congresses in 11 states. The PRI also defeated the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which lost many of its traditional constituencies and is now facing one of its worst crises.

Few in Mexico were surprised by the PRI's comeback. There is a feeling among a large portion of Mexican society that, despite the authoritarian tendencies of past governments and the corruption scandals, things were better off during the 70 years of PRI rule that ended in 2000. Diego Núñez, a young voter from Monterrey, echoed voters throughout the country: “The PRI is highly corrupt, but so are all politicians; the difference is that the PRI actually governed Mexico.” Mr Núñez and many others believe that President Calderón's administration is stuck at an impasse on major issues due to both a lack of political skill and an ignorance of how government functions.

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The PAN's electoral strategy didn't help. While the PRI relied on the political and financial resources of its governors to operate the party’s campaign, the PAN chose an approach of direct confrontation. It also counted on President Calderón's popular image, paralleling a vote for the PAN with a vote against drug traffickers.

But in the public’s mind, the President hasn't been successful in his fight against organized crime? No major heads of cartels have been arrested, and notably, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka “El Chapo,” remains at large after escaping from a high-security prison. The deathtoll from the “war on drugs” keeps growing. And whenever the government tackles corruption in the state police or local administrations, the press and the public view these actions as partisan.

For its part, the PRD sunk most spectacularly after almost winning the presidency three years ago. Internal disputes damaged its image and the semi-defection of its former presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to campaign for the Labor Party (PT), and the party's lack of new proposals, sealed its fate. The PRD moves in strange ways and its old guard is unpredictable, but experts predict dark clouds on the horizon. Pressure to expel AMLO will turn nasty, with harsh rebukes coming from all sides.

In 2012, the PRI might very well be back in the presidential residence for Los Pinos. Most likely their candidate will be Mexico State Governor Enrique Peña Nieto whose affair with actress Angélica Rivera, “the Seagull,” has put his image in the public spotlight with appearances on magazine covers and on talk shows. His credentials within the PRI are impeccable—he widely defeated both the PRD and the PAN in his state, winning in 40 out of 45 districts.

One strong adversary will come from the PRD. Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico City’s hugely popular mayor, has built an image of a statesman with great political skills and intimate knowledge of his city and how to govern. In contrast with his own party, he is an apt political negotiator.

For the PAN things are less clear. There is widespread perception that everyone in the federal government has a shot at the presidency, making it difficult to find a candidate with a real chance to be nominated.

The table has just been set up for the next three years, but this is a very long time for Mexican politics. The guest list is not yet final.

*Eugenio Fernández Vázquez is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He is an editor at ejeCentral.com.mx, an online news and blog portal on Mexican politics.

Tags: Mexico, Calderon, PRI

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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