Elections in Mexico's most populous state could be the beginning of the end for the old ruling party

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Mexico's old ruling party could face virtual extinction in next Sunday's gubernatorial elections for the State of Mexico, the country's most populous entity and the last major state under the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The contest could also mark a milestone for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's Morena party, which has imitated — and largely replaced — the old PRI in the rest of Mexico. After almost five years of his six-year term, López Obrador continues to enjoy enormous popularity.

The polls suggest that Morena could win by a wide margin in the State of Mexico, a contest that many consider as a preview of the upcoming presidential elections, in which the party is also seen as the favorite.

Although the PRI could keep the government of the state of Coahuila, a sparsely populated entity in the north of the country, which also elects governor on Sunday, lose the State of Mexico - a combination of suburbs, popular towns and agricultural communities that surrounds the Mexico City on three sides—would probably mean the end of the PRI as a political protagonist.

It would be a humiliating end for a party that held the presidency uninterrupted from 1929 to 2000, and has ruled the State of Mexico for 94 years.

“After June 4, if the PRI loses, then it can already be clearly stated that it no longer has a future, it would take a while to disappear, perhaps it would stay at the local, regional level, but no longer at the national level. It is coming to an end,” said political analyst Benedicto Ruiz Vargas.

Ruiz Vargas has seen in his home state of Baja California what happens when the PRI takes a nosedive; many of its members retire or seek to join Morena.

"The old cadres of all time, the old ones ruling from a new line, which is Morena, so it is their mutation of the PRI in Morena," he stressed.

That would suit LĂłpez Obrador well. Many of the top jobs in his government are held by members who, like him, used to belong to the PRI.

Sociologist Bernardo Barranco says LĂłpez Obrador is, in some ways, a throwback to the charismatic PRI presidents of the 1960s and 1970s, who handed out government-built apartments and ran government-run supermarkets. Unfortunately, they were also corrupt and caused the economy to collapse.

López Obrador “has a style that the PRI had in the 1960s,” Barranco said. "A nostalgia for that Mexico, which had a provider State, which looked after the income levels."

In the State of Mexico, where current Gov. Alfredo del Mazo is a third-generation PRI politician, Morena nominated Delfina GĂłmez, a not-so-charismatic former schoolteacher who behaves as if she were in a classroom.

The PRI candidate is Alejandra del Moral, a former mayor with a long list of university degrees.

But the decisive factors for the voters of the State of Mexico are much more mundane and have to do with survival.

When work is light, refrigeration technician Juan Ayala runs a small stall selling sunglasses, hats and toys on a sidewalk in the huge municipality of Ecatepec.

He is certain Morena's candidate, Delfina GĂłmez, will win because, like many in the crowded capital suburb, Ayala is fed up with the corruption that has spanned nearly a century.

While talking to a reporter, a burly young man from an “autonomous social organization”—according to what reads on his jacket—passes by to discreetly demand a payment of 50 pesos from each of the sidewalk merchants, then takes a drink from them. photograph each of those who paid. Vendors claim this happens every week, and those who don't pay are prohibited from setting up their booth.

"It's wrong, because they have become rich," Ayala said. "They've been doing it for 50 years."

Leonora González, 61, a cleaning worker, hopes the PRI wins, even if it is to return to a time when there was not so much crime in the State of Mexico. Crimes are so common in this place that when armed youths get on public transport, they simply announce the robberies with the phrase: "You know, my people, wallets and cell phones."

González herself recently had her wallet and phone stolen at gunpoint as she was leaving a subway station after a long day at work.

“Before there was not so much crime. Now you don't feel the confidence, you can't go out at night, ”she noted.

All agree that the biggest problems in national party politics is not the deciding factor in this largely poor state, but direct cash payments.

LĂłpez Obrador instituted a monthly food aid payment for people over 65, which currently stands at about $135 a month. For many of the inhabitants of the State of Mexico, this, along with scholarships for high school students and other social programs, is vital.

“Here the issue is basically money,” said businessman Carlos Sánchez, who assures that his mother-in-law was able to fix her house by saving the payment she receives from the federal government for three months.

The PRI tried a similar strategy for housewives with a debit card called “Salario Rosa,” but Sánchez pointed out that deposits to the cards were often not made.

In addition, Sánchez points out that his son is eligible for the $150 monthly scholarship. "Perhaps Morena is the same as other parties, but they do give," she commented.

It's all part of LĂłpez Obrador's ability to exploit that historical image of benevolent Mexican rulers.

“Morena has to win. Support for older adults, there are many benefits. They distribute the nation's goods, while in the past, the parties gave a waiver, a water tank," said Ayala, the refrigeration technician.

Barranco, who previously served on the electoral board of the State of Mexico, said the PRI's own history works against it, noting that it is difficult to convince the people that you represent change when you have been in power for 94 years.

Although the PRI once produced charismatic but corrupt rulers who were able to provide cash aid from the country's oil riches or generate long periods of economic growth, by the 1980s economic crises forced the party to adopt a much more technocratic and neoliberal position.

“Of every ten Mexicans, seven on average, want a change. They are fed up, they are tired, they are disillusioned with the party in power”, concluded Barranco.

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