Mexico's presidential election took an interesting twist even before the presidential campaigns officially get underway in March 2012. Two developments, perhaps related, appear to have taken the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) down a notch in the eyes of the public. The first development was the resignation of party president Humberto Moreira, who was unable to shake off a financial scandal that followed him after he left his post as governor of Coahuila state.
The other development involved PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, whose public blunder at the International Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro, FIL) in Guadalajara appeared to confirm some allegations that the ex-Mexico state governor is a puppet of the PRI hierarchy. When asked to name his favorite books, Pena Nieto was unable to provide an adequate response. And when he did name one book, he got the author wrong. Some suggest that Moreira might have been able to prevent Pena Nieto's blunder if he had not resigned.
Allegations of corruption force PRI president to resign
The timing of Moreira's resignation on Dec. 2 came as a surprise, since the PRI's unofficial presidential campaign was finally gaining traction after Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones dropped his bid to seek the nomination, leaving Pena Nieto as the sole candidate. Under Mexican electoral laws, campaigns cannot be officially underway until sometime next year, but this does not preclude candidates from making public appearances.
Moreira had vowed to fight allegations by the opposition parties that he ran a corrupt and inefficient government. Moreira left a debt of 34 billion pesos (US$2.5 million) when he resigned to take over the reins of the PRI (SourceMex, Oct. 12, 2011). Some critics pointed to allegations that Moreira used funds from the Coahuila state treasury to help finance a number of PRI campaigns around the country. Additionally, Javier Villarreal, who served as state finance secretary during Moreira's government, is under investigation for amassing unexplained wealth.
Moreira submitted his resignation as PRI president on Dec. 2, citing a need to preserve the integrity of the PRI presidential campaign.
But there was a sense that Moreira's problems left the party in a precarious position, especially since the ex-Coahuila governor became vulnerable to prosecution following the conclusion of the term in office to which he was elected. Under the Mexican Constitution, a sitting elected official enjoys strong immunity, and this might have applied to Moreira, even though he left the post to become the PRI president.
Some analysts said the allegations against Moreira were serious enough that it was necessary that he step down to mount a defense. "He became much more vulnerable to judicial action," political analyst Jesus Cantu said in an interview on the Radio Formula network.
"The other factor that we have to take into account is the timetable for the PRI," said Cantu. "In other words, Moreira completed his mission as president of the party, which was to oversee Enrique Pena Nieto's rise to the candidacy."
There was some talk that the old guard of the PRI demanded that Moreira step down because he was becoming a liability to the party and the Pena Nieto campaign. "Ultimately, this situation proved to be unbearable for the powerful interests who control the PRI and Pena Nieto," Horacio Zaldivar of Radio Pasillo wrote in an opinion piece published by the Coahuila-based newspaper Vanguardia.
PRI leaders lamented Moreira's departure but said the development would ultimately have little or no impact on Pena Nieto's presidential campaign. "The president of our party has made the very personal decision to retire from his post," said Deputy Francisco Rojas. "I have no doubt that Moreira's resignation was intended to promote party unity and to help the PRI return to Los Pinos presidential palace in July. …