PRI Candidate Hopes for Miracle from Party Machine

Roberto Madrazo is the presidential candidate of the party that ruled Mexico for 71 years, the PRI. The fortunes of his party have tumbled since it lost the presidency in 2000 to President Vicente Fox. Madrazo is running a distant third in the polls for Sunday's election.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Mexico votes for a new president on Sunday. The race is expected to be between the candidate from the left and the one from the right. In third place is the candidate from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. That party ruled the country for decades until the election six years ago of Vicente Fox.

In the last of our profiles of presidential hopefuls in Mexico, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro takes a look at the PRI candidate.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

One could almost pity the PRI. Near a food stand in central Mexico City, Geraldo Ramo(ph) sums up what many here feel about the party that ruled Mexico with near impunity for decades.

Mr. GERALDO RAMO: (Through translator) PRI was the government for 70 years, and what we got was poverty, scandal, slaughters, murders.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The PRI candidate, Roberto Madrazo, is behind his rivals: from the left, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and from the right, Felipe Calderon.

The PRI stayed in power through a system of patronage and, some alleged, dirty politics. Presidents picked their successors. Voters were sometimes bought off, and when that didn't work, more nefarious tactics were used. Take the history of Madrazo, the PRI's candidate for president.

He was orphaned at 17 when his parents died in a plane crash. There have always been suspicions that they were murdered because his father was a PRI president at the time who was trying to reform the party.

After becoming governor of his home state of Tabasco, Roberto Madrazo followed in his father's footsteps and took over the national party leadership in 2002. Madrazo has been credited with helping to reorganize the PRI after the devastating elections in 2000. But his critics say he's an old-style party boss who hasn't been able to shake the PRI's corrupt legacy, and many high-level PRI leaders have publicly abandoned him. But Madrazo still has his supporters.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He held his final rally in Mexico City this week. Thousands of party activists showed up for the event, flying banners displaying the number of their local party office.

Madrazo is trying to position himself in the middle ground of what has become an increasingly polarized debate in Mexico by promoting himself as a steady hand in troubled times.

Mr. ROBERTO MADRAZO (PRI Presidential Nominee, Mexico): (Through translator) Mexico can't live through another political adventure like the one we've had since 2000 - neither an adventure from the right or one from the left. Mexico needs a sensible government - prudent, efficient and tolerant and democratic -and that's what the PRI is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There is some worry that PRI-istas(ph) who feel uninspired by Madrazo will give their vote to one of the rival parties because they have a better chance of capturing the presidency. But Madrazo is hoping that the PRI's grassroots party machine will get out the vote.

Mr. MADRAZO: (Through translator) PRI is still in the fight. People don't understand that the PRI is more than a party; the PRI is you that have given it life - that fight for it - that work for it daily. This PRI has roots; this PRI is committed. That's why the PRI is not over and done with, because the PRI is you, the militants.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even if Madrazo doesn't win the top spot, polls show that Congress might be dominated by his party.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And to understand why, you just have to meet the party loyalists who showed up at Mexico City's Revolution Square for the event. Forty-six-year-old Graciela Almasanta(ph) came with her son.

Ms. GRACIELA ALMASANTA: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says our fathers were from the PRI. I will pass it onto our children.

Another woman has brought her granddaughters to the event.

Unidentified Speaker: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The PRI is more than a party, the faithful insist; it's a legacy. And they, and their families, will never abandon it, which is just what Madrazo is betting on.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

(Soundbite of singing in foreign language)

INSKEEP: And you can learn more about the candidates in Mexico's presidential election at npr.org.

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Will Mexico Veer Left in Upcoming Vote?

Felipe Calderon i i

Felipe Calderon, the Mexican presidential candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Acapulco, Mexico. Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
Felipe Calderon

Felipe Calderon, the Mexican presidential candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), delivers a speech during a campaign rally in Acapulco, Mexico.

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

The presidential candidate of the Revolution Democratic Party (PRD), Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, waves his party's flag at a political rally in Veracruz, Mexico. Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images
Roberto Madrazo

Mexican presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) meets supporters during a rally in Torreon City, Coahuila State, Mexico. Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

As Mexico's July 2 election approaches, the race has tightened between two candidates with sharply different views, illuminating a yawning ideological divide among Mexican voters.

The two leading candidates vying for the presidency come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and Mexicans must choose which economic model they want the country to follow. The leftist Lopez Obrador wants to spend big to create jobs. The candidate further to the right, Calderon, wants to follow the free-market policies put in place by outgoing President Vicente Fox.

Until Fox's election in 2000, Mexico had been dominated by one political party — the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. For 71 years, PRI ruled the country through a system of patronage in which sitting presidents chose their successors. That stranglehold on the nation was broken when Fox, representing the conservative National Action Party, won the presidency. As Fox nears the end of his term, his approval ratings remain high, though many have been disappointed by his lackluster presidency.

A vicious negative campaign has exacerbated tensions ahead of next Sunday's vote. A win by Lopez Obrador would continue Latin America's shift to the left. Below, a look at the candidates and the issues involved:

THE CANDIDATES

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador — PRD: Those who love Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador see him as a savior who will lift Mexicans out of poverty. Those who hate him say he is a dangerous demagogue. Few Mexicans are indifferent to "AMLO," as Lopez Obrador is known in Mexico City.

Lopez Obrador was born in the state of Tabasco on Nov. 13, 1953. He was the first son of shopkeeper parents and the eldest of what would be seven siblings. He became an Indian rights activist and was a founder of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (the acronym for which is PRD in Spanish). He's now running on the party's ticket.

Lopez Obrador emerged as a national force in politics when he was elected mayor of Mexico City in 2000. His policies focused mainly on lower-income residents of the capital and led to widespread popular support. Many residents came out to support him when he faced impeachment proceedings in an obscure land-deal case.

Lopez Obrador survived the impeachment hearings. But the case was widely viewed as a political plot aimed at preventing him from running for president.

Lopez Obrador's tenure as mayor was again tainted when several high-profile officials within his administration were filmed receiving bribes. Lopez Obrador was not implicated in the case.

His economic proposals focus on a large campaign of public spending to boost the economy. He emphasizes creating jobs for the 40 million Mexicans who live in poverty. He wants a new overland shipping route that will rival the Panama Canal, a high-speed railway connecting cities, and the planting of one million acres of furniture-grade forest to provide jobs. He's also promising subsidies that will lower the cost of fuel and electricity.

Felipe Calderon — PAN: Felipe de Jesus Calderon was born on Oct. 18, 1962, in Morelia. He is PAN royalty. His father was a founder and influential member of PAN — the Spanish acronym for the National Action Party. Calderon trained as a lawyer in Mexico and then went on to study public policy at Harvard. He became energy secretary under President Vicente Fox. He had little name recognition when he sought the PAN nomination, and he was not Fox's choice. He is a devout Catholic and is considered a solid technocrat, somewhat lacking in charisma.

Calderon's big strength, however, is his "clean hands" image. He has promised to stamp out corruption and create a transparent government. His economic policies are focused on a free-market model that seeks to continue Fox's path of economic stability through trade and low inflation. Not surprisingly, he is the favorite of Mexico's business community.

Early in the game, Calderon was in third place in the polls, but a campaign of attack ads that sought to portray his rival Lopez Obrador as a "danger to Mexico" resonated among the middle class, and the race between the two has tightened.

Lopez Obrador struck back in the last debate, accusing Calderon of nepotism in dealings with his brother-in-law. At one point, Calderon had pulled ahead of Lopez Obrador in the polls, but he is once again trailing the former mayor of Mexico City.

Roberto Madrazo — PRI: Roberto Madrazo was born July 30, 1952, in Villahermosa, Tabasco. His family history is as tumultuous as that of the PRI itself. His parents died in a plane crash when he was 17, and some think the crash was arranged to kill Madrazo's father, a PRI president intent on reforming the party.

Madrazo studied law and earned a master's at the University of California. He has served as governor of his home state of Tabasco, which is also the home state of Lopez Obrador. The two are old rivals who ran against each other in the gubernatorial election.

Madrazo followed in his father's footsteps and became the PRI president in 2002. He is credited with re-organizing the party after the devastating 2000 election, which ended 71 years of one-party rule.

Critics say Madrazo is an old-style party boss. He's been accused of corruption and tax evasion and is running a distant third in the polls. Some key PRI leaders have said they will not support him in the election.

Madrazo is trying to occupy the middle ground by advocating social programs that focus on regional development and education. And while he may not win the election, the PRI is expected to do well in Congress. However, his defeat will probably mean a new shakeup for the party as it tries to re-brand itself.

THE ISSUES

Mexicans are interested in two things: jobs and security.

The Economy: Under the leadership of Vicente Fox, inflation has been low and the peso has been stable, but jobs are still scarce. Analysts say 1 million new jobs need to be created each year in Mexico in order to provide employment to those who are entering the work force. That hasn't happened, and economic growth has been lackluster. Nearly 50 percent of Mexicans live on less than $4 a day, yet the third-richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, is Mexican.

Crime: Drug crime. Kidnappings. Assassinations. Mexico is one of the most violent countries in the world. A recent spate of beheadings of police officers has given drug violence a new twist. Mexico is the main corridor for drugs entering the United States, and gangs are fighting for control of the trade route from Cancun to Acapulco to the border. Police are often implicated in crimes, and a tiny fraction of criminals are prosecuted.

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