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PRI Candidate Hopes for Miracle from Party Machine


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.


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 Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.