‘D-day’ for the PRI in Mex­ico

The rul­ing party’s pres­i­den­tial hopes and its fu­ture are at stake in gov­er­nor’s race in a key state, an­a­lysts say.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Pa­trick J. McDon­nell pa­trick.mcdon­nell @la­times.com Ce­cilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mex­ico City bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

MEX­ICO CITY — Mil­lions of Mex­i­can vot­ers go to the polls Sun­day in closely watched state elec­tions that will pro­vide a crit­i­cal pre­view of pres­i­den­tial bal­lot­ing sched­uled for next year.

Gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions are tak­ing place in three states — the north­ern border state of Coahuila; the small west­ern state of Na­yarit; and, most sig­nif­i­cantly, in the sprawl­ing state of Mex­ico, the coun­try’s most pop­u­lous and po­lit­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant en­tity.

In ad­di­tion, cit­i­zens of Ver­acruz are elect­ing more than 200 may­ors amid wide­spread dis­con­tent with ram­pant crime and mas­sive cor­rup­tion in the oil­rich state along the Gulf of Mex­ico.

Sun­day’s show­case con­test, how­ever, is in Mex­ico state, where a bit­terly fought bat­tle fea­tur­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of dirty tricks and smear tac­tics is widely viewed as a bell­wether for next year’s pres­i­den­tial con­test, with broad ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the coun­try’s long-term po­lit­i­cal scene.

The long-dom­i­nant In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, or PRI, has never lost the gov­er­nor’s seat in Mex­ico state since the party’s found­ing in 1929 af­ter the tu­mult of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary era. But on Sun­day, the PRI faces a stiff chal­lenge in the state, which sur­rounds Mex­ico City, the cap­i­tal, on three sides and is the home turf of Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto.

The pres­i­dent ap­proaches the fi­nal year of his sin­gle, six-year term as a greatly di­min­ished fig­ure — deeply un­pop­u­lar in polls and suf­fer­ing broad cit­i­zen dis­sat­is­fac­tion with ris­ing crime, cor­rup­tion and slug­gish eco­nomic growth.

Con­se­quently, the vote in Mex­ico state is also emerg­ing as a ref­er­en­dum on the fu­ture of the PRI, which re­gained the pres­i­dency in 2012 with high hopes for a resur­gence af­ter los­ing the top post in 2006 and 2000 to the con­ser­va­tive Na­tional Ac­tion Party.

Many an­a­lysts have pre­dicted that a loss for the PRI in the state of Mex­ico — home to more than 11 mil­lion vot­ers, about as many as in Texas — would doom the PRI’s chances in next year’s pres­i­den­tial race.

“The state of Mex­ico is the sup­port base of the PRI, and if it loses there it will be in a worse po­si­tion than ever,” said Jose An­to­nio Cre­spo, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst. “If it loses in its bas­tion, the PRI could face a col­lapse.”

Loom­ing over the race is An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador, 63, a fiery left-wing pop­ulist and twice-un­suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rant who is gear­ing up for a third run next year. He is not a can­di­date in Sun­day’s bal­lot­ing. But “Amlo,” as he is known, af­ter his ini­tials, has been a prom­i­nent and con­tentious fig­ure in the Mex­ico state cam­paign.

In ral­lies, Lopez Obrador has pub­licly called for the “trans­for­ma­tion” of Mex­ico, lump­ing ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties (ex­cept his own) into what he la­bels the “mafia of power.”

The skilled or­a­tor has also seen his po­lit­i­cal for­tunes rise with the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Trump, whom he has ac­cused of mount­ing a “cam­paign of hate” against Mex­i­cans.

Lopez Obrador heads the left-wing Na­tional Re­gen­er­a­tion Move­ment, known as Morena. A vic­tory for Morena in Mex­ico state on Sun­day would prob­a­bly ce­ment Lopez Obrador’s sta­tus as front-run­ner for pres­i­dent, even though ma­jor par­ties have yet to name their nom­i­nees.

Polls in Mex­ico state show a tight, two-per­son bat­tle in the gov­er­nor’s race be­tween the Morena can­di­date, Del­fina Gomez, 54, a for­mer schoolteacher and lo­cal mayor, and the PRI hope­ful, Al­fredo Del Mazo Maza, 41, a rul­ing-party stal­wart.

Surg­ing in re­cent polls is Juan Zepeda of the left-lean­ing Demo­cratic Rev­o­lu­tion Party, a for­mer mayor of the gritty sub­urb of Ci­u­dad Neza­hual­coy­otl. The re­sume of the charis­matic Zepeda fea­tures a sin­gu­lar at­tribute: He says he lived in the United States il­le­gally for years, an ex­pe­ri­ence shared by mil­lions of Mex­i­can cit­i­zens.

The race has fea­tured al­le­ga­tions of elec­toral im­pro­pri­eties from var­i­ous can­di­dates and par­ties. With­out of­fer­ing many specifics, all of­fice-seek­ers have vowed to re­duce crime, im­prove de­crepit in­fra­struc­ture and pub­lic trans­porta­tion and in­crease ben­e­fits for the poor and work­ing-class mul­ti­tudes who make up the vast ma­jor­ity of the state’s pop­u­la­tion.

The PRI has geared up its im­mense elec­toral ma­chin­ery on be­half of its gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, Del Mazo. Party loy­al­ists are re­fer­ring to June 4 as “D-day,” re­ported the mag­a­zine Pro­ceso.

The PRI has long been adroit at cor­ralling votes via hand­outs, pa­tron­age posts, job-gen­er­at­ing pub­lic works projects and other strate­gies.

The PRI-led cen­tral govern­ment has de­nied op­po­si­tion al­le­ga­tions of im­proper use of pub­lic per­son­nel and funds in the Mex­ico state elec­toral cam­paign.

A nar­row vic­tory by the PRI can­di­date in Mex­ico state could spur ap­peals and protests from Lopez Obrador, who al­leges he was cheated out of pres­i­den­tial vic­to­ries in 2006 and 2012. In 2006, af­ter his ra­zor-thin loss, Lopez Obrador’s irate sup­port­ers prac­ti­cally shut down Mex­ico City for weeks.

Re­becca Black­well AP

POP­ULIST An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador heads left-wing Morena.

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