MEXICO CITY — Arturo Montiel, a former governor and one of the leading contenders in next year's presidential race in Mexico, announced Thursday that he was withdrawing his candidacy in the face of corruption allegations against his family.
The decision appeared to leave the nomination of the powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to Montiel's rival, Roberto Madrazo, a former governor of Tabasco state.
The fight for the nomination between Madrazo, Montiel and their allies became one of the nastier and more public political fights in the history of the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000 and is now the leading opposition party.
Montiel was the candidate of a group of PRI leaders known colloquially as "Everyone United Against Madrazo." The two men have exchanged accusations and counter-accusations of malfeasance and political dirty tricks in recent weeks.
"The party rank and file and public opinion have witnessed an orchestrated operation whose clear objective has been the weakening of my candidacy," Montiel said Thursday as he announced his withdrawal at party headquarters.
Last week, the Televisa network reported that government investigators were trying to determine the source of $3.2 million in bank deposits in three accounts belonging to Montiel's two sons and his wife.
Federal investigators, the reports said, were looking into whether Montiel had bought half a dozen luxury properties with ill-gotten gains.
Corruption is rife in Mexico, and many Mexicans assume that most politicians are enriching themselves at the public's expense.
"These assertions have wounded my dignity and my family's dignity, and that is something that as a human being, as a Mexican, as a citizen and as a politician I cannot permit," Montiel said Thursday.
After the Televisa report, other media outlets began publishing stories describing Montiel's mansions in Acapulco, a lake-view property in the Valle de Bravo outside Mexico City, and other sites.
"The biggest and prettiest house here belongs to the governor, but he doesn't come here because they're still finishing it," one construction worker told a financial newspaper that reported on a Montiel property inside an exclusive country club.
Montiel, who was governor of the state of Mexico, indirectly accused Madrazo of being behind the news leaks.
"You know perfectly well who I am referring to," he told a television interviewer Oct. 10. "He abused me in the [party] congress, he abused the [party] rules, and now he's doing this."
Madrazo repeatedly outmaneuvered Montiel in intraparty disputes, preventing Montiel's most powerful ally, teachers union chief Elba Esther Gordillo, from becoming PRI president.
Madrazo denied involvement in the leaks and attacked Montiel, saying his rival had become rich through corruption.
"Arturo Montiel made a fortune and cashed in because he established a very disorderly government" in the state of Mexico, Madrazo said last week.
As the dispute heated up, some PRI leaders called for a meeting in which the two candidates would agree to a civility pact. Montiel initially refused.
"I'm not going to agree to stupidities," he said.
But on Tuesday, the two men met privately with other top PRI leaders in what was said to be an attempt to end the public feud. The newspaper Milenio reported that Montiel had signed the agreement to end the mutual backbiting.
Hours later, Montiel was announcing he would step down in the name of party unity.
The primary vote to pick the PRI's presidential nominee is scheduled for November. One other candidate is in contention for the nomination: Everardo Moreno, a federal prosecutor. Political analysts say he has little or no chance of receiving it rather than Madrazo, however.
Most polls place former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party as the front-runner in next year's general election. Candidates are still vying for the nomination by the ruling National Action Party, which is running a distant third in most polls.