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Mexico Opposition Hoping To Stand United against the PRI

By James F. Smith

The Institutional Revolutionary Party has won every Mexican presidential election in the past 70 years, thanks largely to divisions and rivalries among the opposition parties.

Now right- and left-wing parties, including the main ones, are on the verge of deciding whether to forge a rainbow alliance that fundamentally could change the way Mexico is governed. Chances of agreeing to a partnership have grown steadily, to perhaps 50-50.

Many Mexicans still are skeptical that the disparate parties can or want to resolve their disputes over logistics, platforms and personal egos that stand in the way of an alliance. When the proposal first surfaced in February, hardly anybody gave it any chance at all.

But now it is the talk of the country as opposition leaders from eight parties huddle each day in the garden city of Cuernavaca trying to hammer out a coalition that could defeat the PRI, the ruling party known by its Spanish initials, in presidential elections next summer.

“It is more than obvious that consummating this alliance could profoundly transform Mexican politics,” political scientist Luis Rubio wrote in the daily Reforma newspaper. “The mere fact that the opposition parties have sat down to negotiate not only an alliance to beat the PRI in the next election but an integral program that would include common positions and a government agenda... shows a growing political maturity.”

When veteran leftist leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas first suggested an alliance with the right-wing National Action Party, or PAN, many analysts believed that he was posturing. Cardenas is the leading candidate for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and aligning with the PAN would be anathema to many PRD activists.

But PAN leader Luis Felipe Bravo Mena took up Cardenas’ challenge and agreed to talks, which sputtered along but suddenly took on new urgency this month as the party bosses stared hard at dismal poll numbers.

As in past elections, it appears increasingly likely that a PRI candidate could beat both opposition parties if they again split the anti-PRI vote. But the polls have shown that an alliance candidate could hand the PRI its first presidential defeat since the party was founded in 1929.

The party was created out of the turmoil after the 1910-17 Mexican Revolution. To its foes, the PRI became a corrupt patronage machine designed primarily to ensure its own perpetuity in power.

But attempts at an alliance to beat the PRI could be derailed by a dispute about how to nominate the coalition presidential candidate. Tuesday is the parties’ tentative deadline to conclude the coalition talks and still give themselves time to decide how to choose a joint candidate in the fall. The PRI is holding a presidential primary Nov. 7.