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Mexico's PRI discusses how it can win back the presidency

MEXICO CITY—Roberto Madrazo, who is likely to be the candidate of Mexico's largest party in next year's presidential election, said Monday his faction won't win unless it's more unified and forms alliances with other parties.

Madrazo's comments were uncommonly frank and pessimistic for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico uninterrupted from 1929 until 2000, when it lost the presidency to current President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party, or PAN.

In the next few weeks, Mexico's three largest political parties will pick their candidates, but only one of those selections seems unchallenged at this stage.

Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, 52, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, is the only candidate officially seeking his party's nomination, which will be made in November or December.

Madrazo, who recently resigned as party president, long had been considered a shoo-in for the PRI nomination. But with the party's Nov. 13 primary looming, he finds himself in a tightening battle with Arturo Montiel, the former governor of Mexico state. A poll published Sept. 16 by the newspaper Reforma showed the two men virtually tied.

Turnout is likely to be critical—the poll gave Madrazo the edge among party stalwarts while Montiel won among the broader membership—as is Madrazo's reputation for being closely associated with PRI "dinosaurs," who kept control through elections many viewed as fraudulent.

The Reforma poll said Madrazo was seen as more competent than Montiel by a margin of 44 percent to 38 percent, but that Montiel was viewed as more honest. Only 10 percent of those surveyed said Madrazo was more honest, while 34 percent gave Montiel the edge on that question. The rest said there was no difference.

Montiel already has won one important battle. He persuaded the PRI to move the primary to mid-November from Oct. 30, the date Madrazo favored. The move gives Montiel more time to organize.

Fox's PAN also holds potential for surprise. For months, the leading contender to capture the nomination was former Interior Minister Santiago Creel, with polls giving him a 38 percent to 31 percent lead over former Energy Minister Felipe Calderon.

But then came a Sept. 1 televised debate between the two men, which Calderon won, according to an El Universal poll, by 41 percent to 30 percent among PAN members. Since then Calderon has won two of the party's three regional nominating votes, the most recent Sunday, by margins of 51 percent to 36 percent. The third vote will be held Oct. 23.

Calderon, who represents the party's conservative and Roman Catholic bloc, quit as energy minister in 2004 to run for president. Creel has long been Fox's favorite to succeed him.

On Monday, Madrazo said his party will founder in next year's election if it doesn't present a unified front.

"If the party is not united we will not be able to compete or win the elections," Madrazo said in a news conference with foreign correspondents. "We need better team work, consensus and agreements to show the political capacity that the nation is lacking."

Nothing may stop what many see as a juggernaut for Lopez Obrador, who was the subject of a controversial criminal prosecution that many saw as a badly disguised effort to prevent his running for the presidency. Fox accepted the resignation of his attorney general and ended the prosecution last spring after hundreds of thousands of Lopez Obrador supporters marched through Mexico City's streets.

The latest surveys on the race, in late August, showed Lopez Obrador with 35 percent of the presidential ballots, 13 percent ahead of Madrazo, Montiel and Creel, who were essentially tied for second place.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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