Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexico's Ruling Party Launches Reforms in Bid to Hold Voters President Proposes More Democratic Selection of Party Delegates, Crackdownon Political Fraud to Regain Lost Credibility

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexico's Ruling Party Launches Reforms in Bid to Hold Voters President Proposes More Democratic Selection of Party Delegates, Crackdownon Political Fraud to Regain Lost Credibility

Article excerpt

`DEMOCRACY? Are we talking about the PRI?" asks Francisco Velasquez witharched eyebrows.

This secondary-school teacher, like many Mexicans, doubts that PresidentCarlos Salinas de Gortari's push to "modernize" and "democratize" Mexico'sruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will bring results.

For 61 years, by every means at its disposal, the PRI political machine hasheld sway here. In Mexico, presidents come and go, but the PRI remains in power.It is the longest ruling noncommunist party in the world.

But change is coming. Mr. Salinas's unprecedentedly narrow victory margin inthe 1988 presidential race, in addition to the PRI loss in 1989 of at least onegubernatorial race (the first in recent memory), have shaken the party. On Sept.1, 8,600 PRI delegates will gather in Mexico City for the party's 14th NationalAssembly. The stated purpose: party reform.

PRI chairman Luis Donaldo Colosio, told reporters Aug. 28 that the assemblywinds up five months of grass-roots consultations that will produce a "newPRI" with "substantive and deep changes." Those changes will not, however, bethe dramatic ones pundits recently predicted. For two months, there has beenintense speculation here that Salinas might capitalize on his popularity to forma new party under his direction, with a new name - "Solidarity."

The move would have aimed at restoring credibility with an electorate,particularly the middle class, that perceives the PRI as corrupt, authoritarian,and to blame for the debt crisis that has dogged the economy since the oil priceslump in 1982.

But Mr. Colosio and other PRI officials say this plan was only a trialballoon. Or perhaps, as some political observers say, it was a threat to extractcooperation from PRI traditionalists, dubbed the dinosaurios, who opposeSalinas's party modernization.

For example, 90-year-old Fidel Velazquez, head of the Confederation ofMexican Workers (CTM), the nation's largest labor group, has opposed a tenet ofSalinas's reforms: de-emphasizing PRI reliance on its traditional three"corporatist" sectors: labor unions, farmers, and the white-collar NationalConfederation of Popular Organizations.

In the past, if someone joined the CTM, he automatically became a registeredmember of the PRI. At election time, the CTM delivered the new member's vote. Inexchange, says a top party official, "Fidel got to nominate 200 candidates forseats in Congress."

But this PRI official adds, "the 1988 election showed the capability of thecorporate structure has broken down. It's obsolete." Of an estimated 20 millionPRIistas, only 9 million voted for their party.

The PRI is being refashioned into a "citizens" party, open to all groupsin society. "We are a political organization, not a club of old friends," saysSen. Roberto Madrazo Pintado. Party officials point to the more open selectionof party delegates at the territorial level. …

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