Sizing Up the Front-Runners the Intrigue-Filled Season for Choosing Mexico's Ruling Party Presidential Candidate Is under Way

Article excerpt

THE presidential succession silly season is well upon us.

From the street venders of elote (steamed corn on the cob) to the fancy-suited in posh Polanco (Mexico City's Rodeo Drive), everyone has a theory about who will fill the shoes of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

To many, this intrigue-filled, candidate selection process is more relevant than the actual elections next year, because the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate has won every Mexican presidential election since 1929. The PRI is the world's longest-ruling political party.

The latest popularity poll of PRI contenders shows Mexico City Mayor Manuel Camacho Solis with a sizeable lead over Finance Minister Pedro Aspe Armella, who is closely followed by Social Development Minister Luis Donaldo Colosio.

Mr. Aspe held the top spot almost a year ago. But Aspe has fallen from grace due to dimming prospects for a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the government-engineered economic slowdown (owners of medium and small businesses call it a recession) designed to curb inflation.

But succession logic holds that the popular front-runner is least likely to be chosen. So, Luis Sanchez Aguilar, director of the Institute of Mexican Public Opinion, which conducted the poll, says the next president will be Mr. Colosio, the current third place contender.

The Institute has rightly guessed the last three presidents. Mr. Sanchez argues that Colosio has the least to lose if NAFTA doesn't pass. And Colosio runs the popular Solidarity social and public works program.

The survey also places Agriculture Minister Carlos Hank Gonzalez third in popularity, ahead of Colosio, on two questions about Salinas's successor. But Hank Gonzalez cannot run for president. His father was born in Germany, and the Mexican Constitution forbids the president to be born of parents of foreign descent. …


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