MEXICO CITY—After dominating Mexican politics for 71 years, until Vicente Fox was elected President in 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party finds itself in disarray coming into the July 2 presidential election.
Party candidate Roberto Madrazo remains far behind conservative Felipe Calderon and left-of-center candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in recent polls.
Now, the party, known by the Spanish acronym PRI, has several of its own senior members calling for voters to cast ballots for Lopez Obrador rather than Madrazo, making a PRI comeback even less likely than it already was.
Madrazo, a 53-year-old former congressman, senator and state governor, spent the U.S. equivalent of $11.5 million on advertising between Jan. 19 to March 15, outpacing any of the other campaigns. Most of the money, about $9.2 million, went towards television ads.
But despite the advertising, polls show Calderon of Fox's National Action Party, or PAN, ahead with 39 percent of the vote. Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, holds 35 percent. Madrazo remains a distant third with about 22 percent.
That lag in the polls has some, including PRI Sen. Manuel Bartlett, asking party supporters during the last few days to vote for Lopez Obrador rather than Madrazo. To Bartlett and others, casting a ballot for Lopez Obrador serves as the "useful vote," blocking the conservative Calderon from taking the presidency.
On Monday, PRI officials began the formal process of expelling Bartlett and others from the party. Speaking at a campaign event Monday, Madrazo brushed aside any idea that the intra-party politics would affect his campaign.
"I will get the loyal vote," he said, according to a transcript. "With them we are going to win and we will complement the loyal vote with a good part of the indecisive vote because ... this is atypical, this is not the normal electoral process."
Though now facing internal strife, the PRI once dominated the country's political landscape. The party swept into power in 1929 under the name of the National Revolutionary Party, providing stability for the first time after years of violence. However, as the party became entrenched, allegations of voter fraud and strong-arm tactics increased until 2000, when voters elected Fox, whose term ends this year.
While losing the presidency, the PRI remains a strong presence in the country's politics, holding a numbers of governorships and seats in congress.
Judit Bokser-Liwerant, the head of post-graduate political studies at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said part of the PRI's problem comes from its history. To many voters, Madrazo is "the face of the old PRI," she said, a past abandoned after the 2000 presidential elections swept them from power.
To capture national office again, Bokser-Liwerant said the PRI would need to bring in younger members and have serious internal reforms. Otherwise, she said, it runs the risk of disintegrating in party squabbles.
"Without a doubt, it is not hard to imagine the PRI returning to power," she said. "We are not going to see it in this election."
Bokser-Liwerant's opinion on the PRI echoed some on the street in Mexico City. To Jesus Viruel, a 21-year-old who has a business selling CDs in Zona Rosa, the PRI represents despotism "and the repression of the freedom of speech."
Pausing for a moment while working at a food stand in an open-air market, 52-year-old Lourdes Pardinez immediately knew why Madrazo lagged behind in polls.
"The people wanted a change," Pardinez said. "They were tired of all of the corruption and crime. But money can move anything."
Jon Gambrell writes for The Bellingham (Wash.) Herald.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Felipe Calderon
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