MEXICO CITY — The six official candidates for the ruling party's presidential nomination have made unprecedented appearances on television, ending two weeks of unusual political activity on the way to choosing Mexico's chief executive. Much hoopla attended their appearances, but what they had to say consisted mainly of generalities and contained little to set any of them apart from the others.
Only the remarks of a renegade seventh candidate, a member of the self-styled Democratic Current within the party, offered anything resembling a specific platform, and his appearance was not televised.
And the renegade candidate, former Gov. Cuahtemoc Cardenas, is not likely to be allowed to attend the forthcoming party convention.
Break With Tradition
The six official candidates appeared before a commission of the Institutional Revolutionary Party over a period of 10 days ending last week. Their appearances were seen as a step toward opening the party's nominating process to public scrutiny. Traditionally, a veil of secrecy has masked the selection process, but this has been attacked for being out of step with the times and for producing candidates out of touch with the country's problems.
Still, despite the televised appearances, the vote that counts will be that of the incumbent president, Miguel de la Madrid. By longstanding tradition, the outgoing president chooses his successor, and his choice is expected to be disclosed late this month or in early October.
De la Madrid's selection will then be ratified at a yet-unscheduled convention of the PRI, as the ruling party is known. The PRI dominates Mexican politics, and its nominee is certain to win next year's presidential election.
The six candidates are Alfredo del Mazo Gonzalez, secretary of mines and energy; Manuel Bartlett Diaz, interior secretary; Carlos Salinas de Gortari, planning and budget secretary; Atty. Gen. Sergio Garcia Ramirez; Mayor Ramon Aguirre of Mexico City, and Miguel Gonzalez Avelar, secretary of public education.
Del Mazo, Bartlett Diaz and Salinas de Gortari are regarded as the front-runners; Garcia Ramirez as the leading dark-horse candidate, and Aguirre and Gonzalez Avelar as long shots.
All have strong ties with De la Madrid. All were appointed to office by the president. Their remarks before the party commission were all full of praise for De la Madrid. All promised to continue his programs.
They talked mainly in broad terms and there were no surprises. All promised to do something about inflation, which is running at a rate of about 125% a year. Salinas de Gortari's comments on inflation were typical.
"The situation will not drag on indefinitely," he said. He did not say exactly what he would do to curb rising prices other than to "keep firm" with the policies of the present administration and "avoid demagoguery."
Gonzalez Avelar said, "Only a magician or demagogue could promise a quick solution to the problems."
Relations with the United States generally received little attention except for the ritual pledge to protect Mexico's sovereignty. Garcia Ramirez mentioned Mexico's large foreign debt and parroted De la Madrid's position that the weight of the debt should be "rationally distributed" between debtor and creditor.
The novelty of it all seemed to wear off quickly in the newspapers here. Some political columnists said the candidates' appearances were a farce. Others regarded the entire exercise as a tactic by the PRI to drown opposition candidacies in a wave of publicity.
Public reaction was difficult to gauge. People on the street seemed to be aware that six candidates were openly fighting for the nomination, but they also seemed to understand that the basic method of choosing the candidate, by means of the presidential "big finger," has not changed.
When it was all over, leftist demonstrators showed their disdain by burning the image of a large finger in front of the Legislative Palace.
Dissident Speaks Up
Dissident candidate Cardenas made his views known at a rally Sunday in the town of Jiquilpan, in the state of Michoacan. Jiquilpan is the birthplace of his father, Lazaro Cardenas, who is best remembered as the president of Mexico who, in the 1930s, nationalized the country's oil industry.
For the last year, Cardenas and the left-wing PRI faction known as the Democratic Current have lobbied the party to change its nominating procedure. Leaders of the Democratic Current want the PRI to create a primary system and have an open convention.
The Democratic Current named Cardenas its presidential candidate this summer, but the PRI is evidently not going to entertain any unofficial nominations. PRI leaders say that Cardenas' activities are unauthorized, although they have stopped short of expelling him and his followers.
Although the voting strength of the Democratic Current is unknown, the group is widely credited with pressuring the PRI into disclosing the six official choices. Leaders of the Democratic Current do not consider the gesture adequate.