Tuesday, May 17

Corruption Trials and Internal War Deepen PRI Decline

The president of the PRI, Alejandro Moreno, during a press conference.
The president of the PRI, Alejandro Moreno, during a press conference.Carlos Ramírez / EFE

There is no truce for the PRI. Little more than a month after registering tough electoral results, problems accumulate in the historic Mexican party, lengthening a deepening crisis. The territorial debacle – he has lost eight of the 12 states where he ruled – has once again brought to the surface an internal war that remained dormant but that dates back, at least, to the departure from power of Enrique Peña Nieto in 2018. Tension exploded at the end of June with a pitched battle at the gates of the party headquarters that resulted in a gunshot wound. At the same time, cases of corruption against high-ranking officials of the Peña Nieto government continue to increase, with the recent indictment for illicit enrichment of the former Secretary of the Economy Ildefonso Guajardo, as the latest example. Besieged in the courts and broken inside, the PRI cannot find the way out of its labyrinth.

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The images of what happened on June 29 in the surroundings of the party’s headquarters, in the heart of Mexico City, are more similar to a fight between street gangs than to a dispute between militants of the same formation. Armed with stakes, more than a hundred people had gathered to demand the resignation of the party’s president, Alejandro Moreno. The protest led to a stick hunt through the streets of the city and a young man shot to the height of the collarbone.

The events traumatic and definitively broke an old code of politics that the PRI had strictly followed: dirty laundry is cleaned inside the house. In 2000, the exit from power after 71 years of total hegemony caused the first risk of implosion with demands for expulsion and accusations of fraud in the election of the new party leader. The reconquest of power a decade later, and the control of the internal springs by one of its historical clans, the powerful Atlacomulco group, calmed the waters. But the resounding defeat of 2018 – the candidate José Antonio Meade obtained the worst result in history – resurrected the war.

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The battlefield, moreover, has now changed for the worse. When Vicente Fox took the presidential seat from them in 2000, the PRI still held the leadership in the opposition with more than 30% of seats in both chambers. Today, despite growing in seats – from 48 to 69 – it has fallen to third place and barely reaches 15% of parliamentary representation. More importantly, despite the defeat in the 2000 presidential elections, state power still belonged to them with 19 of the 32 states. Before the June elections, they controlled 12. After the latest debacle, they only have four left.

In the middle of the downhill, Alejandro Moreno reached the presidency of the party in 2019 in a tumultuous internal election marked by accusations of corruption. The questioning of his leadership has been a constant since then until the outbreak of the recent pitched war. “These kinds of altercations are unusual in the PRI. At least in the national sphere, where it had always been characterized by representing an image of unity and airing differences internally, ”explains Rogelio Hernández, professor in Political Science at the Colegio de México (Colmex).

The academic, an expert in the history of the PRI, also points out that “in the current context it was even foreseeable that something like this would happen, because there are no leaderships with true authority and respect among the militants.” Hernández considers in any case that Moreno will end his term and the party will turn in search of some “prominent figure of national stature and even institutional like Miguel Osorio Chong”, current senator and former strongman of Peña Nieto as Secretary of the Interior.

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Morena, the elephant in the room

Faced with the serious events of two weeks ago, the National Executive Committee responded through a statement in which it pointed to the former governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, and accused him of having “dealings with Morena to destabilize the PRI for a couple of years.” . The same accusations that paradoxically the party leadership receives. Morena is the elephant in the PRI room.

Since the birth of the party today in government, less than a decade ago, the threat of being displaced, if not swallowed, has been increasing. The overwhelming victory of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2018 was the first blow, intensified in the last midterm elections, when the ruling party seized the eight competing states that the PRI ruled. From the beginning, López Obrador’s project has been interpreted as a kind of reformulation of the classic PRI, before the neoliberal turn of the late 1980s. Morena’s rapid growth, in fact, has been nurtured by a good handful of cadres of that old PRI.

Other historical leaders have chosen directly to leave the party. César Augusto Santiago was secretary general and deputy for more than two decades before his departure in 2019. “The PRI is no longer a viable option in the electoral competition. It has no ideas or identity. It is plunged into a deep ideological chaos where what rules is pragmatism to conquer electoral spaces ”, points out the veteran ex-leader. Santiago censors both the PAN approaches – in the last elections, the former enemies were partners in an anti-Moreno front – as well as the nods to López Obrador.

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Criticism of the current leadership of the party for its sympathy with Morena has been on the rise. Even slipping underground negotiations in exchange for the support of the PRI in the Chamber for López Obrador’s party. The results of the elections have given it the role of a possible hinge party in order to reach the qualified majority that opens the doors of constitutional reforms, the president’s maximum objective. In the background, cases open for corruption against senior officials of the previous government continue to run. From the former chancellor and strongman of the peñismo Luis Videgaray to the defendants Emilio Lozoya, former director of Pemex, or former secretary Rosario Robles. Most, at the moment, stuck in the courts.

The return of the parliamentary sessions after the summer will be the litmus test to see if the PRI’s strategy consists of bowing to Morena in the Chamber. López Obrador has already announced that he will urgently undertake a constitutional change to unblock his electricity reform. A yes from the PRI would mean reversing part of the energy reform promoted by Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013, one of the flags of that new PRI.

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