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Shakeout In Mexico's PRI

Virtually the entire leadership of Mexico's long-ruling party, with the exception of its president and finance head, resigned Wednesday in the wake of its first presidential election defeat in 71 years.

Riven with internal discord and a power struggle sparked by its July 2 trouncing by conservative challenger Vicente Fox, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) would embark on deep reforms and change, its president Dulce Maria Sauri said.

"The whole central committee handed in its resignations on July 3 and today I will make them effective," Sauri told local radio and television stations.

Apart from Sauri, the only high-ranking PRI official to remain, at least temporarily, was its finance director, Sauri said. The finance official will have to sort out the party's accounts, and settle its debts after its failed bid to elect its 13th consecutive Mexican president.

The PRI, which for seven decades presided over what internationally-renowned Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa once called "the perfect dictatorship," was devastated by the election defeat.

Party "dinosaurs" most closely associated with past election fraud, paternalism and nationalism are fighting for control against a modernist wing, made up of U.S.-educated "technocrats" backed by Zedillo.

One of the candidates who has been touted as a possible future leader of the PRI, its defeated candidate Francisco Labastida, Tuesday night broke his post-electoral silence and denied he sought to be PRI president.

"Democracy triumphed," Labastida told the Televisa broadcaster. He said he was open to meeting with Fox of the center-right National Action Party (PAN) to help map the transition.

Labastida also added his voice to a group of ruling party faithful rallying around Zedillo in a closing of ranks seen as crucial to averting political instability and making the hand-over smooth.

Hard-line PRI members seemed particularly stung by Zedillo's quick public acceptance of Labastida's loss, appearing on national television to recognize the election outcome well before the candidate.

"I recognize President Zedillo's honesty, his patriotic sense, and his vision in promoting and realizing the strongest democratic reforms ever accomplished for the country," Labastida said.

Labastida spoke shortly after most PRI state governors from across the country publicly backed Zedillo.

"The election results are a shared responsibility," Colima Gov. Fernando Moreno told reporters after a six-hour meeting between Zedillo and all 21 PRI governors.

But six of the PRI governors broke ranks, led by Tabasco Gov. Roberto Madrazo, and former Puebla Gov. Manuel Bartlett, leader of the so-called dinosaurs.

Asserting they disagreed with the others, these governors plan to publish their own policy paper on where they think the PRI should go. Madrazo did not speak to reporters after the meeting with Zedillo Tuesday.

But in an open leter to Sauri, he called for a transitional leadership that would "democratize" the party.

The PRI must "discuss the most open and inclusive means for its integral democratization and the method for electing a new national directorate," Madrazo said.

Sauri, who also has been criticized for her role in the electoral defeat, was nominated by the governors to head a transition committee until the party elects new leaders.

The changes in the PRI can be viewed as turmoil or merely an attempt to keep up with the man who beat them. For his part, President-elect Fox continues to promise sweeping change.

He has promised "a couple" of press conferences a week and interviews everyday, compared to the few held by outgoing President Zedillo during his entire six-year term.

Fox's constant appearances on television and on the radio also have a clear purpose: to ease the fears and confusion of Mexicans who have never before experienced a leader who was not from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI.

He also has promised to tour the country to listen to local concerns and assure former foes that he will not take revenge.

The candidate who referred to PRI as a haven of "scorpions," "black snakes" and "toads" has dramatically softened his tone.

And he has vowed that federal workers—most of them PRI members—will be retained so long as they accept changes that include greater honesty and efficiency.

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