Three Prime Candidates Contest Mexican Race

LUIS Donaldo Colosio Murrieta enters the race as the handpicked successor to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Like Mr. Salinas, Mr. Colosio is a relatively young economist. He was Salinas' campaign manager in 1988. After the elections, he became the president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and spent the last year as Secretary of Social Development, which oversees Solidarity, a multibillion dollar grass-roots, antipoverty program.

``The PRI and Solidarity experience provide him with two strong bases of support,'' says Arturo Sanchez, a researcher at the Mexican Institute of Political Studies.

The two posts give Colosio an extensive national network of contacts at all levels within the community. Given that his administration would likely focus less on economic reform than Salinas and more on education and poverty, the tie with Solidarity bolsters his image, analysts say.

Colosio is different from past PRI presidents in that he comes from a working-class family without a tradition of politics. He's the first PRI candidate since Luis Echeverria (1970) to have held prior elective office. Colosio was elected to Mexico's congress in 1985. PRI campaign ads will ``Clintonize'' Colosio, analysts say, emphasizing his youth and his middle-class, rural (from Sonora state) roots, and attempt to disassociate him from the usual political power structure. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano, PRD

The center-left candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) started his campaign early, crisscrossing the country to build a coalition of support from civic groups and small businesses. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano, a tall, not-so-charismatic speaker, nearly won the 1988 elections. (Many observers claim fraud prevented his victory.) Mr. Cardenas is the ex-governor of Michoacan state and the son of a popular former Mexican president.

But since 1988, the PRD has lost ground in state and local elections. It currently holds no state governorships. The party organization is not as extensive as the other leading opposition party, the PAN, but it has been fortified by the election of the outspoken ex-PRI senator, Profiro Munoz Ledo as party president.

The challenge for the PRD is to attract disgruntled PRI members and voters who have not benefited from the Salinas economic reforms. Despite lower inflation and five years of economic growth, large numbers of workers have been laid off due to the sale or closing of state enterprises. Several sectors of the economy have been hit hard by the free-market policies which have opened the doors to low-cost imports. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, PAN

The bearded candidate of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), Diego Fernandez de Cevallos was not unveiled, but elected by a vote of the PAN executive committee. But Mr. Fernandez, the PAN's chief legislator in the lower house, had to fight off criticisms from within his own party that he's been too cozy with the PRI. Indeed, the challenge of Fernandez is to show voters how the PAN differs from the PRI. The Salinas economic, religious, and agricultural reforms are very similar to what the PAN has proposed for years.

On political reform, the PAN follows a ``gradualist'' policy of slowly opening up space for itself on the state and local level. During the Salinas administration, via negotiation and pressure, the PAN made political history by taking three governorships from the PRI. It also won five times as many municipalities as it had in 1988.

But most analysts say the PAN is conserving its position, waiting for the elections in 2002 to make a serious run for the presidency.

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