Mexico's Ruling Party Divorces Itself From Leading Dissident

Times Staff Writer

In an unusual display of discord, Mexico's ruling party has all but expelled a prominent member who criticized it for being undemocratic.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, for six decades the dominant political party in Mexico, said in a statement published in newspapers here Wednesday that Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a former governor of Michoacan state and son of the late President Lazaro Cardenas, "no longer collaborates with the party."

Cardenas is a prominent member of the so-called Democratic Current, which has been pressing for reform in the way the party selects candidates for all offices, including the presidency.

'Excesses, Intransigence'

In comments to the press earlier this week, Cardenas said that "anti-democratic excesses and intransigence, norms of conduct of the highest party leadership, impede all dignified and respectful collaboration."

Rather than officially expel Cardenas, the party suggested that it was accepting his resignation.

"The party understands that Cuauhtemoc Cardenas does not want to work with the party anymore," said Alejandro Sobarzo, a member of the National Executive Council, the party's directorate. "The decision is his. The case is closed."

Traditionally, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, values party discipline, and often this has meant putting on a unified face regardless of the depth of disagreement. Cardenas, by publicly criticizing the party, broke with this tradition.

Accused of Ingratitude

Also, some party militants feel that Cardenas, who enjoyed power and prestige under the PRI, had shown ingratitude. As one put it, "You can't suck the teat of the PRI for years and then turn around and kick the party."

The incident reflects the stress within the party resulting from both the national difficulties it is experiencing and its fading popularity. Because of the party's long domination of Mexican politics, any significant split is watched closely as a sign of political change to come.

Under President Miguel de la Madrid, now in the fifth year of a six-year term, Mexico's economy has failed to meet the demands of a growing labor force. Wages have fallen, and national leaders have warned of the possibility of social unrest if economic growth is not restored.

Corruption Charges

The PRI, meanwhile, is seen as increasingly unable to deal with Mexico's problems. Charges of corruption in government are widespread. The party's hold on power is attributed more to its organizational skills and the lack of strong opposition parties than to its popularity.

Last year, several left-leaning members of the PRI formed the Democratic Current with the aim of changing the method of choosing PRI candidates for office, from mayor to president. Presently, the president chooses candidates for major offices.

PRI's control of voting blocs and electoral machinery has ensured that, for nearly 60 years, the party has won all the presidential races, all the elections for senator and governor, most elections for the lower house of Congress and all but a handful of mayoral elections.

The Democratic Current thinks this practice is "worn out," as it said in a recent statement, and wants instead a form of primary elections.

'Democracy Has to Start'

Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a veteran PRI politician and member of the Democratic Current, said, "In Mexico, where one party is so strong, democracy has to start with the PRI."

But Munoz Ledo, a former party president, has been more discreet than Cardenas in his public comments and is not considered likely to be expelled.

At a recent PRI convention in Mexico City, the proposals of the Democratic Current were buried by official disapproval. Party President Jorge de la Vega told the dissidents that if they do not like party policies, "they should go live in another country."

Cardenas said Wednesday in an interview that his comments on intransigent party leadership were aimed at De la Vega.

'I Haven't Left'

"My personal decision is that I am not collaborating with the current leadership of the party," he said. "I haven't left and I am not going to leave the party. I don't consider myself expelled."

It is not clear how many members of the PRI, especially its leaders, are formally aligned with the Democratic Current. Some party members have long supported the idea of primary elections but have steered clear of identification with the group because its most vocal leaders belong to the left wing of the party.

Further, this is an especially delicate time to take a stand on such a subject. President de la Madrid is expected to choose his successor this fall, and backing the wrong man can be hazardous. Several PRI politicians consider that the Democratic Current is trying to influence the succession or the selection of Cabinet ministers.

The party's swift action in dealing with it indicates that in this campaign year, significant criticism of the PRI will not be tolerated.

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