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Inside Story Americas
The young face of Mexico's old party
The party that ruled Mexico for 71 years appears poised for a comeback, but what is behind the resurgence of the PRI?
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2012 09:38

Mexico's presidential campaign is underway. For the next three months, three candidates will make their case to the Mexican people - all of them promising change as Mexico struggles with a deadly war with drug cartels and a troubled economy.

So far, the Institutional Revolutionary Party or the PRI, that for decades ruled Mexico with an iron fist, appears to be poised for a comeback.

"The PRI corrupted every segment of society, whether it was education, whether it was petroleum, whether it was electricity. And, of course, they also cut deals with the large narco-traffickers. So there were rules of the game established."

- George Grayson, a professor of Latin American politics

It is known as the party of dinosaurs, but its current candidate is a 45-year-old who is appealing to younger voters. Polls show Enrique Pena Nieto with a comfortable lead over his rivals.

Part of Pena Nieto's appeal rides on widespread discontent with President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party or the PAN.

During Calderon's term, more than 50,000 people have been killed due to drug violence. The PAN's candidate, Josefina Vasquez Mota, is currently in second place according to recent polls.

In third place is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is representing a coalition of leftist parties. Obrador narrowly lost the last presidential election by less than one per cent of the vote.
 
So what is fueling the resurgence of the PRI? Can Pena Nieto win back the presidency for the party that controlled Mexican politics for 71 years? And what will the PRI's resurgence mean for the country's troubled economy and deadly drug war?

To discuss this Inside Story Americas with Shihab Rattansi is joined by: Fernanda Salazar, a PRI supporter and adviser; Rodolfo Pastor, a Latin America analyst and contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus; and George Grayson, a professor of Latin American Politics at the College of William And Mary.

"The PRI made sure that there was order and progress, even if it was relative, even if it was also linked to profound inequality and poverty and, of course, pacts had to be made.

I think that besides the wonderful discourse that Pena Nieto as a fresh face, as a telegenic candidate is making right now, there is this off-the-record message by the PRI to the Mexican people: 'Listen, we may be corrupt, we may be authoritarian, but we're going to take care of things, we're going to make sure things work again.'"

Rodolfo Pastor, a Latin America analyst

FACTS: THE PRI

  • The Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI was born in 1929, following the Mexican Revolution
  • The PRI controlled Mexico for 71 consecutive years
  • It lost the presidency in 2000 when the candidate of the conservative National Action Party or PAN toppled the PRI in an election for the first time
  • Since then, Mexico has had two consecutive presidents from the PAN
  • But under the PAN drug violence has killed more than 50,000 people and there is a sense that in general terms most Mexicans have been economically worse off under the PAN
  • The PRI has a large presence in Mexico's congress and senate and holds 20 of the country's 32 states in the governorships
  • Despite a long history of widespread corruption under its rule, there is a sense that Mexico's most experienced political organisation is best placed to manage the country's many complex political problems


WHAT DO MEXICANS SAY?

"I think it is going to be a divided vote because there is no real favourite. For a time, Pena Nieto was very strong. But after that I think there were some scandals ... having to do with his image and he began to drop [in the polls]. I think Josefina [Vasquez Mota, the PAN candidate] could win."
Ivan Sanchez, 26, architect

"I think Josefina Vasquez Mota could be a great president because she would give continuity to President Felipe Calderon's project. I don't like the other candidates who are talking bad about the other candidates instead of talking about their own strong points and proposals."
Ivan Tobar, 32, accountant
 
"My candidate right now is [Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador. I was against the Party of the Democratic Revolution six years ago [in the last election], but in light of what all the parties and he himself, I think I'll give him this opportunity and place in his hands this Mexico and we hope he will do his best for the country."
Sandra Sosa, 34, office worker

"We ask that they pay more attention to us [working class Mexicans] and that [they] don't make promises because we are tired of promises. What I'd like is that they fulfill what they are saying in their campaigns."
Alejandra Jimenez, 53, maintenance worker 

Source:
Al Jazeera
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