MEXICO CITY — Mexico's ruling party Sunday named career bureaucrat Carlos Salinas de Gortari, architect of the country's austere economic policies, as its candidate for president.
His nomination by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has dominated Mexican politics for 58 years, certifies for all practical purposes that Salinas, 39, will be this nation's new president after elections next year.
Salinas is budget and planning secretary in the outgoing government of President Miguel de la Madrid. He is better known for his intellect than his charisma. Salinas holds three postgraduate degrees from Harvard University and has spent his professional career in government ministries.
Known as Technocrat
As such, Salinas is one of a breed of so-called technocrats who have come to dominate Mexico's governing politics for the past 25 years. He is the fourth consecutive presidential candidate of the PRI--as the ruling party is universally called here for its Spanish initials--never to have served in elected office before taking on the campaign for the highest post.
"Emotion-filled, I accept the decision of the party," Salinas said during a half-hour acceptance speech. "I accept it because I feel passionately committed to Mexico and its destiny."
The PRI is Mexico's largest political party, a cohesive organization that embraces citizens from every walk of life and from across nearly the entire political spectrum, left to right. It controls electoral machinery nationwide, and as its candidate, Salinas is the sure winner in the presidential vote set for July, 1988.
Barring the unforeseen, Salinas will be inaugurated in December, 1988, becoming Mexico's youngest president in 54 years.
During his acceptance speech Sunday to thousands of PRI faithful at party headquarters here, Salinas alluded to his youth as a plus. "I belong to a new generation, the one of national renewal, the one that is modernizing Mexico," he declared.
In the coming campaign, Salinas will lead a party that, in spite of its overwhelming power, has a declining reputation. The PRI and its leadership have come under fire for failing to pull Mexico out of five years of deep recession and rising prices. Opposition calls for an end to electoral fraud and corruption have further put the party on the defensive.
Also, the PRI's traditional method of choosing its candidate, in secret and by the outgoing president, has been attacked by forces inside and outside the party.
De la Madrid's Choice
Salinas' nomination followed months of speculation about whom De la Madrid would choose. The candidate and De la Madrid share a long association, and observers concluded that whatever infighting at the highest levels of the party might have preceded the nomination, De la Madrid in the end anointed exactly whom he wanted.
"It is clear that this was De la Madrid's pick," said economist and political columnist Jorge Castaneda.
Salinas rode from his home to PRI headquarters for his acceptance speech Sunday in the same big, white government bus that usually carries the president on tours around the city.
Historically, it has been hard to tell how PRI nominees will perform once in office. During De la Madrid's term, now in the fifth of its six years, Salinas has designed policies intended to reduce the government's role in the economy and to thrust Mexico into international commerce. But no one knows if he is devoted to these policies or carried them out only at the behest of his boss.
Pledge to Stay With Policies
"Salinas is the logical choice to continue the economic thrust of De la Madrid, but in practice, you never know" said Lorenzo Meyer, who heads the Colegio de Mexico, a think tank.
In his Sunday speech, Salinas pledged to stay with present policies.
"We will advance by gradual and firm change, we will continue the structural change of the economy, fight to reignite growth, end inflation and expand justice," he said amid a swirl of confetti and the crackle of noisemakers.
He made no dramatic pledges, in keeping with the low-key style he usually maintains in public. "Our future does not rest on easy promises that eat up words but in faith in our possibilities of advancing," Salinas cautioned.
The candidate promised to work against electoral fraud. In the same breath, he attacked criticisms of the country's political system coming from abroad.
"We will fight for a clean electoral process and reject foreign meddling in our system," he said. It was the closest he came Sunday to commenting on foreign affairs.
The candidate said nothing about Mexico's massive foreign debt, although he is reported to favor lobbying for easier terms from foreign creditors.
Salinas competed against five other candidates for the nomination: Four of them are his colleagues in De la Madrid's Cabinet and one is the mayor of Mexico City. After a rumor-filled night, PRI president Jorge De la Vega announced the Salinas candidacy at 9:20 Sunday morning.