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PRI elite still determine their party’s candidates

January 14, 2012

Has the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) really changed from its authoritarian past or is it just adopting young, handsome faces to mask its true visage?

Amidst criticism of the PRI’s undemocratic selection process, the PRI’s newly appointed candidate for governor of Jalisco has denied he was hand-picked by the party leadership. Following a day of drawn-out discussions on January 5, the PRI named Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval Diaz, the 35-year-old mayor of Guadalajara, as its candidate in the July 1 election.

Selected ahead of six other hopefuls, who have now agreed to support his campaign, Sandoval was chosen in a meeting of the PRI’s National Executive Committee (CEN) headed by party president Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, at the national headquarters in Mexico City.

This week Sandoval rejected claims that his appointment was a “dedazo,” the Spanish term for when the party elite point the finger in approval at a given candidate, in lieu of any democratic nomination process. The PRI grew notorious for this practice during its 71-year unbroken reign, with each president essentially hand-picking his successor.

“It was not a ‘dedazo.’ The ‘dedazo’ is imposed, this was an agreement by mutual consent,” explained Sandoval, in response to speculation over his appointment. Without giving further details, the mayor alluded to “scientific methods, analysis, debate, arguments, counter arguments, and consensus” during the behind-closed-doors meeting.

Yet Sandoval’s appointment has provoked widespread skepticism over whether the PRI has changed from the days of old. Certainly, the PRI’s antiquated selection process contrasts with those of its political rivals.

To decide the presidential candidate of the Mexican left, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard recently agreed to a series of inquests to determine which of them had greater national support. Even the National Action Party (PAN) has taken the unusual step this year of conducting public elections (essentially a primary) to determine its candidate for governor of Jalisco.

Unsurprisingly, the PRI’s methods drew criticism from their opponents.

“It is an undemocratic method. This is not a new PRI, it is the same old PRI,” said Hernan Cortes, a PAN candidate for governor. Another panista vying for the position, Alfonso Peterson, praised his “party’s decision to listen to people to see who will be the candidate.”

The PRI Executive Committee in Jalisco had a different take on Sandoval’s candidacy, proclaiming “it strengthens the unity of the party and puts us on the way to victory.”

Like the PRI’s presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, many suspect Sandoval was chosen in part for his youthful, handsome appearance.

Elected as mayor of Guadalajara in 2010, Sandoval will take a leave of absence from January 12. The city council is expected to name an interim mayor on this date.

Married and a father of two, the young mayor previously worked as a lawyer at his alma mater, the public Universidad de Guadalajara, where he was also a law professor. On his official webpage, Sandoval states, “I come from a traditional family in Guadalajara, where I formed the solid values ​​and principles that have helped me throughout my professional and personal life. I learned to love my city and its inhabitants, and to respect the history and legacy of our country and Jalisco, the birthplace of great men and women.”

Despite his age, Sandoval is not without experience. Like current governor Emilio Gonzalez, he served as deputy in the LVII Jalisco Legislature, before serving as a Guadalajara city councilor from 2001 to 2003. This work, he says, “certainly helped me understand the great responsibility and honor that comes with being the mayor of this noble city.”  He was elected mayor in 2009.

Sandoval will need to utilize this experience, as well as his looks, if he is to win the state governorship. The PAN has governed for 18 years in Jalisco, and the state is now is considered a party stronghold.

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