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Aide to Slain 1994 PRI Candidate Decides to Back Opposition's Fox

May 20, 2000|MARY BETH SHERIDAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — In a move heavy with symbolism, a top aide to Luis Donaldo Colosio, the presidential front-runner assassinated in 1994, bolted Mexico's ruling party and threw his support Friday to an opposition candidate who is threatening to end the 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The endorsement by Alfonso Durazo, Colosio's private secretary, was the latest prize in Vicente Fox's drive to build a broad-based coalition to oust the ruling party, known as the PRI. Fox has trumpeted a stream of defections from rival parties in recent days, portraying the shifts as symbols of a momentum that could result in his victory in the July 2 election.

Fox, of the center-right National Action Party, or PAN, has pulled even with PRI candidate Francisco Labastida in recent polls.

Durazo acknowledged Friday that he had ideological and political differences with Fox.

"However, the urgency of combining forces to guarantee a profound political change is above these," Durazo said at a news conference with Fox in Colosio's home state, Sonora.

Durazo's endorsement had symbolic weight because Colosio is considered an icon of democratic reform by many Mexicans. Labastida has publicly embraced the ideals of the slain candidate, and the PRI even named Colosio's father to a position on the party's ruling council last December.

Durazo is the most high-profile of the defectors from the PRI and the center-left Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, who have joined the Fox campaign in recent weeks. Fox, a former governor of Guanajuato state and former executive of Coca-Cola's Mexico operations, has portrayed the endorsements as signs of an opposition vote coalescing around his candidacy.

"It's part of the hurrah factor," said Federico Estevez, a political scientist. "Fox's main message is, 'I'm ahead. We're growing. Come on board.' Hurrah. It's a Coca-Cola campaign."

The endorsements also were a kind of "psychological warfare" to weaken the traditional idea of PRI invincibility, Estevez said.

It's not clear how many votes the endorsements will bring. Durazo was a top aide to Colosio, but he wasn't considered a political operator.

Some of the other recent defectors to the Fox campaign do have independent political bases. One of them is Layda Sansores, a PRD senator whose powerful father was president of the PRI. She is from the southern state of Campeche, where Fox's party has had little presence.

Earlier this week, members of a PRI peasant organization endorsed Fox and ripped up a copy of the ruling party's logo.

The PRI has scoffed at the idea that it is losing strength. It released a statement attributing Durazo's action to his frustrated political ambitions. He had sought unsuccessfully to be a PRI candidate for Congress, the statement said.

"The party laments that Durazo's attitude is far from the ideals of Luis Donaldo Colosio," the communique said.

In his resignation statement, Durazo took aim at his former party's campaign theme of internal renovation, saying the "new PRI" didn't exist. Instead, he said, the party was marked by "senile orthodoxy and a humiliating discipline" imposed on members.

"A party whose energy is dedicated more to mocking change than imagining it and conducting it has no future," he said.

A single gunman has been convicted in Colosio's death, and investigations continue into whether the assassination was part of a wider plot. Colosio was succeeded as PRI candidate by Ernesto Zedillo, who won the presidency in 1994.

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