Ruling party in Mexico to alter system for nomination

Open primary expected to replace deal making

May 17, 1999|By NEWSDAY

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's ruling party, which has had exclusive hold on the nation's presidency for 70 years, faces a big ideological test when its national directorate sits down today to decide exactly how it will choose a candidate in what it has promised will be a new democratic era for the Mexican electorate.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, is expected to end its closed-door system and opt for a form of primary, the first in Mexican history, to choose among four openly declared candidates and two who are flirting with the idea.

The PRI appears to have little choice, according to a PRI insider who did not want to be identified. The party already has held primaries on the gubernatorial level, and any step back could be interpreted as a retrenchment on its part.

However, an open primary holds pitfalls for a party that grew up on fraud and manipulation. When the left-leaning opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, which grew out of PRI dissidence, tried to elect its party leader two months ago, charges of fraud flew and it had to annul the results.

"Imagine the PRI in a direct vote," said political scientist Jorge Chabat. "The PRD couldn't even do it. You think someone wouldn't commit fraud? Who's going to watch over the election, the party that's committed fraud all its life?"

The interior secretary, a former interior secretary, a governor and an ex-party chief are vying openly for the PRI nomination.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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