Latin American governments often get a boost from the success of their national soccer teams. But Mexico’s emocionante advance at the World Cup on Wednesday probably can’t save the country’s ruling party from humiliating defeat in Sunday’s presidential election.
Polls show José Antonio Meade, the candidate of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party – the PRI – in third place. He’s 20 points behind the leader, left-of-center candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador. About the only way Meade can win is if the government pulls the sort of massive electoral fraud Mexico hasn’t seen since the PRI stole the 1988 election.
But this isn’t the 20th century, when the PRI could cheat more shamelessly than the New England Patriots. Back then it ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years, until voters ousted the party in 2000 and kept it out of power for 12 years. The PRI is all but certain to lose again on Sunday – and when it does it should do Mexico, the Americas and the world a favor.
Leave. Disband. Disappear.
The PRI is no longer of any real positive use to anyone in Mexico. Or outside Mexico – where the party’s grievous governance has only emboldened Donald Trump’s racist slur that the country is a lair of “bad hombres.”
Even the PRI’s Orwellian name – we’re institutional and revolutionary! – evokes a soulless transnational corporation more than a meaningful political movement. It’s “centrist” only because it stands for no discernable philosophy except finagling power – and making the most corrupt and incompetent use of that power.
The past six years, especially the past six months, make that appallingly clear.
After its 2000 setback, Mexicans hoped the PRI would do some sincere navel-gazing. Clean up its act. Find a more productive calling than stuffing ballot boxes and embezzling public funds. Offer a credible alternative to the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the liberal Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).
Then in 2012 a new generation of PRI-istas, led by then 45-year-old presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, seemed to promise something worthier than the hoary, thinly veiled criminal syndicate the party had been since its founding in 1929, when it brought order to the Mexican Revolution's chaos.
Peña Nieto won with just 38 percent of the vote. Still, Mexicans were willing to give the PRI a second chance.
It blew it. Disastrously – and, say critics, monstrously.
Peña Nieto’s had some legislative successes, including long overdue liberalization of Mexico’s crucial, state-owned oil industry. But he has some of the lowest presidential approval ratings in Mexican history – as abysmal as 12 percent last year – and the reasons are countless.
For starters, his “new” PRI is just as crooked as the old PRI.
Peña Nieto himself set the tone early on when he and his TV actress wife had to explain how they acquired a $7 million Mexico City mansion from a construction firm that won lucrative government contracts.
Today the PRI regime is blatantly blocking attempts to prosecute a swamp of scandals involving top officials – including the head of the state oil monopoly, Pemex, who's under investigation for taking millions in bribes, and others accused of plundering millions earmarked for education to use for party election campaigns. (They all deny wrongdoing.)
The “new” PRI is also just as arrogantly brutal.
The scariest exhibit is the still unsolved 2014 disappearance – and presumed murder – of 43 college students in southern Mexico, allegedly at the hands of police and their drug-cartel partners. The U.N. recently accused Mexican authorities of torturing suspects to extract false confessions in the case, a tactic the old PRI perfected long ago.
And the “new” PRI is just as ineffectual.
That’s evidenced most by its utter inability to protect its own citizens. Peña Nieto smugly pledged he’d rein in Mexico’s staggering narco-violence. But more than 100 political candidates and five journalists have been murdered in Mexico just this year – and 3,000 people were murdered just last month.
The PRI is certainly not the world’s – or Mexico’s – only corrupt, cold-blooded and incapable political party. But most dysfunctional parties ultimately rediscover the socioeconomic purposes that created them. The PRI has no such purpose – and shows no sign of ever finding one.
Here’s to hoping that after Sunday it finds the exit.