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The future of Mexico’s centralist National Institutional Party (PRI) will be contingent to a single concept: loyalty.

The PRI lost all the governorships in its power in June for two reasons: the depth of its discredit (derived more from its arrogance than from the failure of the governments it led), and the lack of loyalty of its outgoing governors, who mostly chose to throw their support behind the local representatives of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) leftist Fourth Transformation (4T) platform in order to avoid judicial persecution or, in the best of cases, to get a personal invitation to join his party and reinvent themselves as “morenistas” in a lucrative government network that changes colors and parties at a drop of the hat, while maintaining the same dubious political practices and players as always.

Over the course of the last three decades, since 1988, when the multiparty system arrived, political transvestites have become commonplace in Mexico.

The party most affected by this practice has always been the PRI.

Since the collapse of the party’s democratic current back in 1987 due to an essential difference in projects — i.e., statism versus neoliberalism — defections have been a constant in the PRI.

But in 2021, the spectacular fall of the PRI was not due to any public political rupture.

What happened between the defeat of PRI presidential candidate José Antonio Meade in 2018 and the party’s resounding losses in the midterm elections of June 2021 was a slow, hidden and surreptitious dismemberment of the party from the inside out.

The PRI was not the biggest loser in Mexico’s midterm elections because López Obrador has been an overwhelming success as president. He has not.

Instead, the PRI lost all the governorships that it had at stake in that polling despite the fact that AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena) has so far proven to be disastrous: The economy has consistently contracted since the start of the administration, unemployment is on the rise, inflation is soaring at a worrisome rate, the national health system has collapsed due to the change from the flawed-but-functioning Seguro Popular public medicine insurance program to the completely dysfunctional Institute of Health for Wellbeing (Insabi), violence is more rampant than ever, and the ravaging effects of covid-19 pandemic have no end in sight.

The real roots of the PRI’s defeat were multifactorial, but there are two key elements that stand out and should not be ignored because they will have a major impact on the reconfiguration of Mexico’s political map and the entire Mexican party system.

The first element is without a doubt the PRI’s erosion of voter credibility.

In the second half of his six-year term, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012 to 2018) and his collaborators blatantly squandered the prestige and image of the party that had been achieved with the political advances of the first half of his mandate.

There were structural reforms that emerged from Peña Nieto’s Pact for Mexico that allowed constant growth during the six-year period, in a world affected by the global recession.

But between 2015 and 2018, the expenditure of political capital previously earned by Peña Nieto’s PRI was so great due to carelessness, excesses, abuses, miscalculations and, yes, betrayals, that the party not only lost in 2018 with a solid presidential candidate, but three years later it was incapable of winning an election against a government that’s management lacked any concrete achievements or successes.

The second major factor that influenced the PRI’s demise has even greater weight and is more specific: rhe betrayal of the PRI governors.

The PRI also lost because the vast majority of its governors and at least a good part of its leaders operated in favor of Morena.

States such as Sonora, Sinaloa, Colima, San Luis Potosí and even Campeche, are just some examples of how these politicians became party turncoats.

Between 2000 and 2012, it was the solid PRI governors — Patricio Martínez García of Chihuahua, Manuel Ángel Nuñez Soto of Hidalgo, Eduardo Calzada Rovirosa of Queretaro (along with some who had reputations for being more showy and less tempered, such as Roberto Madrazo Pintado of Tabasco, Arturo Montiel Rojas of the State of Mexico and Humberto Moreira Valdéz of Coahuila) — who united that party and successfully confronted the conservative National Action Party (PAN )governments of former Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón.

But between 2012 and 2018, the PRI brought to the state governments figures who helped the federal government of Peña Nieto destroy the recently restored PRI prestige.

It was Javier Duarte de Ochoa of Veracruz, Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz of Nuevo León, César Duarte Jáquez of Chihuahua and Roberto Borge Agulo of Quintana Roo who placed the first nails in the PRI coffin in 2018.

Later, José Ignacio Peralta Sánchez of Colima, Claudia Pavlovich Arrelano of Sonora, Quirino Ordaz Coppel of Sinaloa and Juan Manuel Carreras López of San Luis Potosí, among others, led by the very politically savvy Alejandro Moreno Cárdenas of Campeche, were in charge of negotiating the delivery of the PRI’s remaining gubernatorial seats, perhaps in exchange for impunity or promises to become part of the 4T, by allowing Morena to operate at ease and without counterweights in the states where it supposedly had opposition.

It is there, in this betrayal by the PRI governors, that a good part of the explanation for the fall of the PRI to a do-nothing Morena lies.

In order to move forward into the 21st century, rather than toward the 18th century, as AMLO would wish, Mexico needs new political parties, new referents and, above all, a new political culture.

It would appear that the days of an all-powerful PRI are long gone.

Perhaps the few remaining true PRIistas — not those who sold out the party for personal interests — should think about a serious and thorough re-foundation of the party, which would eliminate the tarnished name and colors and of their organization and start anew with what remains of the positive image and accomplishments of the PRI to form a new, citizen-based party, a party with ideas in line with today’s world, ready to fight for Mexico’s political center.

ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER is a lawyer and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) School of Law. He directed the political magazine Cambio and Radio Capital for 15 years. He also founded and directed GreenTV, a cable television channel specializing in sustainability and the environment, for five years. He has been a commentator and host for various radio and television shows and has written political columns for the newspapers El Día and Unomásuno, in addition to publishing articles in more than 20 regional newspapers in Mexico since 1995. He is the author of the books “One Hundred Names of the Mexican Transition,” “Chimalhuacán, the Empire of La Loba” and “Chimalhuacán, from Lost City to Model Municipality.”

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