Mexico Elections 2024: The PRI seeks a social democratic solution to its identity crisis

Alejandro Moreno, president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), during the party's National Assembly on December 11.
Alejandro Moreno, president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), during the party’s National Assembly on December 11.PRI

In the last National Assembly of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) the militants decided to redefine their ideology and dust off the old term of social democracy to relaunch the party. The once all-powerful PRI, which ruled in Mexico for 70 consecutive years, from 1930 to 2000, —and for six more from 2012 to 2018—, which fell precipitously in the last presidential elections for Morena’s steamroller, is desperately searching for a way out of the neoliberal and corrupt past that carries as the heaviest burden for the presidential elections of 2024.

“By mandate of the 23rd PRI Assembly we are a center-left party. We are social democrats, feminists, environmentalists, enemies of discrimination, progressives, allies of popular causes. We kicked the neoliberalism that they imposed on us from power, ”Rubén Moreira, the coordinator of the PRI bench in the Chamber of Deputies, announced from his Twitter account. And with this turn of the wheel, which rejects with a plummet the last PRI governments, such as Enrique Peña Nieto’s last liberal, the party returns to its origins and is closer than ever to its main rival and possible partner, the party of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Morena.

“The PRI has been orphaned of an ideology since the eighties,” says the political scientist from the Colegio de México and expert on the history of the Mexican party, Rogelio Hernández. It was born with the ideology of revolutionary nationalism, which in Mexico and Latin America represented the “generic left”, explains the professor. This current is based on two issues: recognizing the party and the Mexican political system after the Revolution and the responsibilities of the State, as a guarantor of economic development and social well-being, and that the results of development are distributed equitably. “This was in force without changes since the birth of the party, but in the eighties with the technocracy the responsibility of the State was redefined and its priorities are no longer in social spending, but in stabilizing the economy, a shift to the right,” he explains Hernandez.

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The debate that has caused controversy about the new social democratic identity of the PRI is based on the fact that in recent governments – and mainly in the eighties with Miguel de la Madrid and the beginning of the nineties, with Carlos Salinas de Gortari – the traditional party became a symbol of the privatization of public companies and the supposed abandonment of social spending in favor of economic development. And this belief in associating the PRI with the “plundering” of the country is mainly driven by the recurring discourse of López Obrador and his followers, which he maintained since his electoral campaign and which earned him the vote of thousands of Mexicans disenchanted with the traditional political system. .

The paradox is that Morena swept through 2018 claiming the primitive ideology of the traditional PRI. According to Hernández, the greatest exponent of revolutionary nationalism in these times is the president’s party. The ideology with which the PRI was founded is, according to the professor, practically impossible to differentiate theoretically from social democracy. “In practice, they are the same. When they have to define it is when the problem comes, because it does not suppose an alternative ”, adds Hernández. López Obrador began his political career in 1976 as an affiliate of the PRI, then made the leap to the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) – a split from the ruling party – during the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), to finally found her own party, Morena, in 2014.

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The condition of the PRI as a party subordinate to the Executive power meant that it never had a true ideological independence. “Well, it was designed to conserve power, not to compete for it,” explains the political scientist. So it has been revolutionary or conservative when it has seemed useful. And these days, appealing to social democracy, he is trying to shake off the neoliberal suit he acquired in the 1990s and above all, to defend himself against López Obrador’s attacks with an eye toward the next elections.

Change in the face of energy reform

The ambiguity of the PRI’s position regarding López Obrador’s energy reform, which essentially destroys the one promoted by PRI Peña Nieto in 2012, was the first sign of a change in the party’s identity. With the new definition of “center-left social democrat” they launch a new gesture to the president’s party, each day closer ideologically. The PRI, which in recent years has allied itself with the right wing to counterbalance the government, has avoided positioning itself on the presidential initiative and has left the door open for negotiations with the Executive. The approval of the reform can only be possible if the PRI adds its seats in the vote in Congress.

López Obrador has shown his approval at the change of direction of the historic party and this Wednesday he appealed to the shift in his ideology to add the political formation to his plans. “It would be very good if they rectified because they are moments of definitions and I hope they support the electricity reform, that would help more than a thousand pronouncements, which are revolutionaries who are democrats who are centrists (…) you have to take them at their word, I would glad they rectified, it is wise to change your mind, even the stones change their way of thinking ”, he said.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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