September 5, 2008 5:23 am

Mexico’s PRI leads poll ahead of election

Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is on course to become the country’s most powerful political force following next year’s mid-term elections, according to a poll published on Wednesday.

The survey, carried out for the Reforma daily newspaper, reveals that the PRI now command 37 per cent of the vote compared with 36 per cent for President Felipe Calderón’s centre-right National Action Party (PAN).

That is a startling turn-around from 6 months ago, when the same poll showed the PAN leading with 37 per cent of the vote compared with 31 per cent for the PRI.

The results are particularly worrying for Mr Calderón and his administration because they suggest that voters are losing faith in the government’s ability to keep the economy on track and address rising levels of crime. Those surveyed said that economic concerns were one of the main factors behind their voting preferences.

“People feel that the PAN is not doing what it promised to do, which is to create employment and tackle crime,” said Jorge Zepeda, a political analyst in Mexico City.

On Tuesday, Agustín Carstens, the finance minister, underscored the link between security and growth, pointing out that crime costs Mexico about one percentage point of economic growth a year, and cost companies between 5 – 10 per cent extra a year. “That lack of competitiveness affects sales, employment and national development,” he said.

The poll results will doubtless come as a huge lift for the PRI. The centrist party finally lost the presidency in 2000 after holding power for 71 consecutive years, and came in a poor third in the presidential and legislative elections of 2006.

Since then, however, the party has strung together an impressive series of local-election results. Last week, Carlos Salinas, the country’s former PRI president, told the FT: “Today, everything suggests that [the 2009 elections] will be a great victory for the PRI.”

Yet Mr Zepeda argues that the party’s comeback in the last two years has much more to do with the failure of its rivals than with any merit of its own. In particular, the party has capitalised on the continuing disarray within the leftwing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which is still leaderless months after it held closely fought leadership elections.

“The person in the street sees inefficiency in the PAN and chaos in the PRD and in that context the PRI doesn’t look too bad,” he says. “At the moment, you have to consider them strong contenders for next year and even for 2012 [the next presidential elections].”

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