MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Reeling from the first presidential election loss in 71 years, the head of Mexico’s longtime ruling party has offered to resign and party leaders were in a power struggle Tuesday to replace her.
Officials of the Institutional Revolutionary Party say many leaders were resisting President Ernesto Zedillo’s choice to lead the party _ a sign of the dramatic changes that have occurred since the opposition victory in Sunday’s election.
In the past, a president’s word was virtually law within the party known as the PRI.
``Many people are angry with Zedillo. There is a lot of irritation and a lot of anger and some even blame him that we lost,″ said Alfonso Ayenza, an adviser to the defeated presidential campaign. ``There are people who do not accept it″ _ the president’s involvement in choosing the new party leader.
Party officials had planned to meet Tuesday night to decide whether to accept the resignation offered by Maria Dulce Sauri almost immediately after the defeat became obvious early Monday. But the meeting was postponed indefinitely to allow tempers to cool and party officials to negotiate a compromise.
Rafael Oceguera, a member of the party’s national executive committee, told reporters that Sauri decided to resign because ``it was the most natural thing to do after failing to achieve the objective of winning the presidency.″
He said he and others would fight to keep her as president, but many powerful figures were backing other candidates following the PRI’s greatest political disaster.
Governors and politicians solemnly shuttled in and out of the party’s sprawling headquarters Tuesday, some speaking briefly with hordes of reporters waiting outside, others brushing past without a word.
Photographs of the PRI’s defeated presidential candidate, Francisco Labastida, his arms raised skyward under the word ``Invincible,″ still decorated the hallways.
Officials said Zedillo had proposed former Hidalgo state Gov. Jesus Murillo Karam as the new party president.
``The president is only one vote as a party activist,″ said Angel Rangel, a backer of Tabasco state Gov. Roberto Madrazo.
While party leaders often have made similar statements, it was usually immediately after quickly obeying presidential requests.
In this case, other party leaders have proposed Cesar Camacho, former governor of Mexico state; Manuel Bartlett, a former governor and interior secretary, and Labastida.
Bartlett and Madrazo lost to Labastida in the party’s first open primary in November, and had accused him of being Zedillo’s hand-picked candidate. The allegation seemed to help Labastida win the support of the party’s rank and file.
In a letter to the party, which was also sent to the news media Tuesday, Madrazo proposed the creation of a National Transition Commission to handle party reform. ``What is at stake is the survival of the party,″ he said.
Madrazo said he was surprised by ``the haste″ with which the national executive committee had convened ``at such a difficult time,″ and said he was absent because ``I can’t back a proceeding that ... doesn’t match the gravity of our circumstances.″
Zedillo is the first president to break the party tradition of naming the candidate who would succeed him _ a freedom that many party activists did not appreciate, particularly after Labastida fell to defeat.
Several party officials have blamed Zedillo for contributing to the defeat through political reforms and for accepting it too quickly Sunday night. One party faction even suggested expelling him from the PRI _ which in the past would have been a bit like a priest suggesting expulsion of the pope.
President Plutarco Elias Calles founded the PRI in 1929 to help strengthen presidential control and to resolve the often-bloody power struggles among the victors of the Mexican Revolution.
The party became synonymous with the government, almost the nation itself, adopting the red, white and green colors of the Mexican flag.
It grew to include the country’s leading labor, farm, business and social action groups, with representatives in every village and city neighborhood in the country.
Political reforms over the past 15 years gradually eroded its monopoly on power _ which collapsed spectacularly on Sunday when Vicente Fox of the National Action Party won by 43 percent to 36 percent over Labastida.
Defeat means the party loses control over most of the tens of thousands of patronage jobs and the social welfare programs that helped cement its control for generations.
Oceguera said that in the next few days the party will have to continue working ``without losing the serenity, without rushing ourselves and without losing the touch and the sense of a politically democratic direction.″