Even if times have changed, old political customs persist. One of them within the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is for the president in turn to pick the candidate who will be the PRI’s next presidential candidate.
This custom, if it can be called so, maintained the party governing from 1929 through 2000 when PRI lost for the first time in its 71 year old history. The defeat at the hands of Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) caused blistering pain within the ranks because, as the old PRI adage has it, “lo live outside the federal budget is to live in error.”
The idea of breaking this custom popularly known as “el dedazo” or the president pointing his finger at the chosen candidate is not new. It has a 30-year old background.
Trouble for the PRI began when in 1988 President Miguel de la Madrid appointed Carlos Salinas de Gortari as the candidate. There was a rebellion within as Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas wanted to be the PRI candidate and when not selected, he and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo splintered from PRI to organize a left wing front which finally nominated Cárdenas, who went on to lose the very controversial election as when seeing that Cárdenas was ahead, De la Madrid ordered the PRI president at the time to stop the vote count and declare Salinas de Gortari the president elect. Salinas has been accused ever since of stealing that election.
Cárdenas and Muñoz Ledo moved on to organize the splintered left and formed the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) which they later abandoned, but that’s is a different story.
Salinas de Gortari continued with strong man custom and for the 1994 election he appointed first Luis Donaldo Colosio as candidate. Colosio was murdered and Salinas had to replace him with the only man at hand, Ernesto Zedillo. Surely Salinas still regrets having appointed Zedillo.
When the moment to pick a candidate for the 2000 election, there was a rebellion within the PRI to stop “el dedazo” curtailing the president’s power to impose his will upon the party and at an open election the party chose Francisco Labastida, who went on to lose the election to Vicente Fox.
President Zedillo stayed aloof from PRI politicking and left the party on its own. Definitely by the next election in 2006, PRI was foundering and PRI president Roberto Madrazo used being at the helm of the party to become the presidential candidate. He ended up in third place after Felipe Calderón of PAN and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of PRD. It was the second consecutive defeat of the PRI in a row.
At PRI militants learned the bitter lesson that one of the great “secrets” of the PRI was having the president in turn to appoint the candidate in a move that over the course of decades became known as “the succession.” The monolith structure of PRI was almighty as they did not only have control of the presidency but of all the states governors’ offices. It was indeed a one party system run by an almighty president best known as “the presidentialista system.”
After losing the 2006 election, PRI began to suffer erosion and lose state governments to other political parties.
Then came candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, governor of the State of Mexico — the area surrounding Mexico City — and gained control of the PRI to successfully be elected candidate and win the presidency in 2012.
With Peña Nieto some of the old style of PRI governance returned to the presidential residence of Los Pinos and there is no question that his rule has been “presidencialista” and has managed to impose his programs and also lead PRI to recent victories in races for governor.
The question being asked is if President Peña Nieto will return to the old custom of “el dedazo” and pick the PRI presidential nominee or allow the party’s forces to vote a candidate up for the 2018 presidential election.
Nowadays within PRI two outstanding members, former Yucatan Gov. and former PRI secretary general Ivonne Ortega and former Senator and Sonora governor as well as PRI president Manlio Fabio Beltrones have shown dissent against having the president pick the candidate.
They are not alone as many militants believe that the way of the party should be a democratic selection and this will be very much a subject of discussion at the upcoming August 12 national convention in Mexico City.
But over the course of four and a half years President Peña Nieto — who swears to his love for the PRI — will most likely bring PRI back to the old rule of a strong man who gets to pick his successor as history has proven that democracy within PRI just doesn’t work on election-day.
Imposition is the name of the game. In the old days that was the right of the president in turn and Peña Nieto, a traditionalist, will surely follow that course and try to keep the presidency six more years.