Mexico’s Pri Jockeys For July Vote With An Eye Toward 2012

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Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Charles V. Barclay.
Reason: 1.4 (b), (d).

¶1. (C) Summary. The Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI)
is confident six months out from the vote that it stands to
make significant gains in July’s federal legislative and
gubernatorial elections, even as PRI luminaries approach the
electoral contest with an eye toward the next presidential
bid. Most observers see party president Beatriz Paredes,
Mexico State Governor Enrique Pena Nieto, and PRI Senate
leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones as the three most likely
presidential candidates, with Pena Nieto needing to prove
that his personal popularity can translate into stronger
electoral results and support for the PRI. The party is
already increasing its attacks on the Calderon government and
his National Action Party (PAN). Regardless of the electoral
outcome, it is almost certain that from here on out, PRI’s
policymaking and campaigning will be primarily geared toward
recapturing the Mexican presidency. End Summary.

State of Play

¶2. (C) The PRI continues to be confident that it stands to
make significant gains in July’s federal legislative and
gubernatorial elections. Some analysts suggest that, while
less likely, with enough victories in the winner-take-all
votes, the PRI could be granted an absolute majority through
the distribution of proportional representation seats.
Director General of the Chamber of Deputies’ Center for
Social Studies and Public Opinion (CESOP) and former advisor
to PRI Senate leadership, Carlos Casillas, told Poloff on
January 15 that the PRI is probably most likely to win about
215 seats, and Luis Rubio from the Center of Investigation
for the Development of Mexico (CIDAC) agreed that the PRI is
virtually guaranteed at least 210 seats. Rubio also noted
that while he sees PRI as unlikely to win an absolute
majority, it is not completely out of the question since the
party would have to win only 42% of the vote–with
alliances–in order to be allotted enough proportional
representation slots to push them over 250 seats. (Note: The
PRI currently has 106 seats in the Chamber, while the PAN has
207 and the PRD has 127. End Note.)

¶3. (C) PRI also hopes to make gains in the gubernatorial
races. PRI Director for International Relations Ceslo
Delgado told Poloff on January 20 that of the six
governorships up for grabs, the party hopes to maintain its
grip on Sonora, Campeche, Colima and Nuevo Leon, while
perhaps picking up Queretero or, less likely, San Luis
Potosi. Both Queretero and San Luis Potosi are considered
PAN states–Queretero has been governed by the PAN since 1997
and the party has prospered in San Luis Potosi under PAN
Governor Jesus Marcelo de los Santos–but corruption scandals
plaguing the current Queretero governor and PAN infighting in
San Luis Potosi could open the door to a PRI challenger,
according to Casillas and other local observers.

¶4. (C) Analysts have pointed to the PAN and PRD as being slow
off the mark in preparing for the July elections. Luis Rubio
opined that President Calderon seems to be doing little to
directly organize the PAN’s electoral effort. Splits within
the party between ideological and pragmatic factions also are
paralyzing the party, and PAN leadership has yet to prove
that it is developing a coherent campaign strategy for the 40
to 50 swing districts it has to win in order to obtain the
168 seats it needs to be able to check the PRI in congress.
The bitterly fought internal power struggles within the PRD
will almost certainly prevent the party from effectively
campaigning in the runup to the elections, and the still
unresolved issue of 2006 presidential candidate Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador’s place in the party is alienating potential
voters. Rubio opined that the PRD may only be able to secure
between 80-85 districts. The PRD is also a virtual
non-factor in the gubernatorial elections, which will turn
into two-way races as the PAN and PRI battle for the posts.

Internal PRI Positioning

¶5. (C) Some PRI heavyweights are eyeing the 2009 electoral
season with the next presidential election in mind, and
potential candidates are already looking to position
themselves to advantage in 2012. Most observers see party
president Beatriz Paredes, Mexico State Governor Enrique Pena
Nieto, and PRI Senate leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones as the
three most likely presidential candidates, with PRI Chamber
of Deputies Coordinator Emilio Gamboa and several state
governors (including the Governors of Veracruz and Sonora)
also harboring their own hopes. Casillas and PRI-affiliated
analyst Jose Alcalde both noted that Paredes is likely to
take one of the plurinominal federal deputy seats, but
Casillas reported that she may reconsider. Paredes almost
certainly would only be willing to be a deputy if she were
guaranteed to lead the PRI congressional bloc, which would
require that she relinquish the party presidency. If she
were to resign, the party’s Secretary General and close ally
to Pena Nieto, Jesus Murillo Karam would assume the
presidency, thus strengthening the Mexico State Governor’s
position. Nevertheless, even if Paredes chooses to serve out
her term as president, her allies almost certainly will fill
the majority of seats allocated to the party by proportional
representation, and she will thus manage the most powerful
PRI deputies in congress.

¶6. (C) Beltrones and Gamboa are also probably trying to
strengthen their positions by influencing the candidate
selection process, with a likely focus on the gubernatorial
races given the power PRI governors still have in managing
party affairs in their states. Party insiders suggest that
Beltrones, for example, is attempting to see his ally be
named as the gubernatorial candidate in Sonora. Gamboa and
other party leaders publicly backed pre-candidate for the San
Luis Potosi governorship, Jesus Ramirez Strobos, in the
primary race against winner Fernando Toranzo Fernandez,
rumored to be Paredes’ pick. Analysts suggest that internal
bickering over candidate selection will continue to be
fraught until the candidate selection process concludes.

Big Year for Pena Nieto

¶7. (C) PRI is looking to Pena Nieto to prove in this year’s
elections that his personal popularity can translate into
stronger electoral results and support for the PRI in Mexico
State. Carlos Flores Rico, currently the Director General
for the party’s “Territorial Movement,” told Poloff in
December that the party has not fared particularly well under
Pena Nieto in Mexico State, and most analysts suggest that
the PRI’s prospects remain at best uncertain in July’s vote.
CESOP is projecting PAN to win some 11 seats in the state,
with PRI ending up with 13 and the PRD with 16. This would
be an increase from PRI’s current 7 directly elected deputies
(PAN having 11, PRD 20, and Convergencia 2), but perhaps not
the dramatic increase party luminaries would need to see in
order to be convinced that public support for Pena Nieto can
be chalked up to more than attraction to his charisma and
youth. Perhaps unlike in previous electoral contests, Pena
Nieto is focused on the July elections–he has launched
significant public works projects in areas targeted for
votes, and analysts and PRI party leaders alike have
repeatedly expressed to Poloff their belief that he is paying
media outlets under the table for favorable news coverage, as
well as potentially financing pollsters to sway survey

Campaign Heating Up

¶8. (C) PRI is focusing its campaign by attacking the PAN and
President Calderon on economic, security, and corruption
matters, while hoping to win support from disaffected PRD
voters by appealing to their “social democratic”
sensibilities. Delgado told Poloff that PRI will focus
negative campaigning on the PAN’s neglect of the agricultural
sector, deteriorating economic conditions, and that the PAN
is “no less corrupt than the PRI was.” Local press is
already honing in on what seems to be an increasingly
acrimonious relationship between the PRI and PAN as Paredes
and PAN Senator Santiago Creel have traded barbs over the
past week on issues ranging from candidate selection
mechanisms to governance and progress on reforms.

¶9. (C) PRI’s criticisms of its rival may have some legs–PAN
Secretary for International Relations Juan Bosco Tinoco told
PolCouns on January 23 that he is very concerned that
Mexicans may be increasingly receptive to opposition attempts
to blame President Calderon for worsening economic
conditions, which may strengthen PRI prospects. Bosco noted
that recent focus groups conducted by the party indicate that
people are becoming more frustrated that the Calderon
administration has not done more mitigate the local effects
of the worldwide economic downturn, whereas focus groups last
fall indicated that people understood the problem to be a
global phenomenon rather than the result of mismanagement
from the government. Most analysts predict a more
acrimonious legislative session when it starts next month,
and some suggest that PRI may secure significant compromises
from the PAN on proposed laws such as police reorganization.


¶10. (C) The electoral landscape could change dramatically in
the months of campaigning that lie ahead–for example,
internal PRI politicking as potential presidential candidates
seek to best position themselves for a 2012 bid could sow
divisions during the candidate selection process for the
legislative and gubernatorial contests. Real divisiveness
within the party probably will be held at bay through the
July elections, however, even as rifts exist that could serve
to once again rend the party as the presidential contest

¶11. (C) Analysts have suggested that the PRI, particularly if
it were to secure a majority, will approach the next
legislature aggressively and in pure campaign mode.
Observers note that PRI probably would seek to pass laws
recentralizing authority with an eye toward winning the
presidency in 2012, looking, for example, to impose more
controls on the private sector, changes to budget procedures,
funneling greater resources to the agricultural sector, and
imposing more controls over PEMEX. It is almost certain that
between now and the end of the current Sexenio, PRI’s
policymaking and campaigning will be almost exclusively
guided by the goal of re-capturing the Mexican presidency and
the internal power struggles that accompany such a bid.
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