Tuesday, March 21, 2006

PRI DEFECTIONS: behind the scenes

Over the weekend, several U.S. newspapers have carried or reported on a story published March 17 in El Universal: a defection of some PRI leaders from the Madrazo camp. These 18 high profile PRIistas are federal deputies (i.e., members of the national congress).

American newspapers may imply that this is the first crack in the wall for Madrazo support, and that a flood is soon to follow. This prediction may be right, but we must come to the proper understanding of the present defection. The current crop leaving the Madrazo camp are largely members of the teachers union and this is being done in sympathy with Elba Esther Gordillo (who in the opinion of some should have been the PRI candidate for president). Gordillo was the foremost member of the PRI to try reach across the party aisle to cooperate with President Fox (and both of these brave individuals received the censure of the politicos for putting nation above party). I see this defection of the 18 as punishment of Madrazo for his past sins. The loss of this support was expected, and will not trigger anyone else to jump ship.

One question remaining to be answered is what will become of these 18 (and the charismatic Gordillo and the thousands of school teachers that they represent)? Officially, they have created the "Independent Parliamentary Reform Group." Their sights are set well beyond July's election, and it is unclear how their actions will impact that event.

What Madrazo has to worry about now, is not the loss of these 18 who never supported him, but the future defection of current supporters. PRI candidates always built their defacto campaigns around one issue: "I am going to win, so you better support me." As Madrazo's poll numbers fall deeper into third place, he cannot run on that issue, and if there are any other issues out there, they have not gotten any traction so far.

I do predict a mass of PRI defections, but not for Madrazo's past sins of demoting Ms. Gordillo, but for his present sin of demoting himself in the national polls. Don't expect PRIistas to stick with Madrazo "out of principle."

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