Simmering divisions in Mexico’s center-right National Action Party (PAN) came to a head yesterday when a longtime member — and a former first lady — announced her resignation.
Margarita Zavala quit the party she has belonged to for the past 33 years, further deepening divisions among party members.
Zavala, wife of former president Felipe Calderón, cited undemocratic leadership, an unclear selection process for candidates for next year’s presidential election and a silencing of the party base as reasons why she decided to quit the party but stressed she was leaving “without bitterness.”
She is now expected to run as an independent candidate in next July’s election, the first to allow candidates without party affiliation to run for president.
In a video she posted to Facebook, Zavala strongly criticized the national leadership of the party but while she has clashed previously with its national president, Ricardo Anaya, she didn’t refer to him explicitly.
The PAN is the only political force that has held the presidency apart from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) since 1929 and broke that party’s uninterrupted 71-year stranglehold on power by winning the presidency in 2000. It held the top office for two consecutive terms until 2012.
In announcing her resignation, Zavala said the party’s leadership had imposed “antidemocratic decisions that we criticized so much in the PRI” and “cancelled the internal democratic life [of the party] and citizen participation.”
The PAN will contest the 2018 election as part of a coalition officially announced last month that includes the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and the Citizens Movement party.
Called Citizens’ Front for Mexico, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera is considered a frontrunner to be its candidate although there have also been suggestions that it could be Anaya.
Zavala said that while she was leaving the party before she knew how the candidate will be chosen, “the law obliges me to do so” because if she didn’t, she would be prevented from participating in the electoral process. The deadline to register as an independent candidate is fast approaching.
“For two years I asked for a transparent, democratic and clear method [and] that citizens be heard [before] making a decision. I asked for it in public and in private, I asked for it at the Permanent Commission, in writing and on video, [and] the answer was always evasive,” she said.
However, she also said, “I’m leaving without bitterness” and “I have only words of gratitude for PAN.”
Anaya responded to Zavala’s decision in a video he uploaded to his Twitter account. He called the decision a mistake as it would only benefit the incumbent PRI and “the PRI doesn’t deserve another chance because it has failed Mexico.”
He also said that the process to select a candidate was subject to a time frame determined by law that couldn’t be modified by political parties.
“The candidacy to which she aspired is not yet decided . . . .” he asserted, adding that “the PAN as a historical institution is bigger than any of us as individuals and the Citizens’ Front for Mexico is strong and stable . . . .”
Zavala’s announcement has brought simmering, long-held, internal tensions within the PAN to the surface, and prominent party members agreed that it was representative of a schism in the party.
PAN senator and former state governor Ernesto Ruffo compared her exit to pus coming out of an abscess, raising the ire of Felipe Calderón who responded via Twitter that “Ruffo expresses very well the intellectual level, moral stature, level of debate and democratic tolerance of what remains of the PAN.”
But other PAN politicians regretted Zavala’s decision and held Anaya responsible for fractures in the party.
Senator Ernesto Cordero said just prior to Zavala’s announcement that her decision to quit would leave the party with a depleted vote of no more than 280,000.
“Margarita is going to take the votes and Anaya will be left with the structure of the party,” he said, making it clear who he believed was to blame and what the result for the party would be.
“. . . Anaya is denying the PAN the opportunity to return to governing Mexico in 2018.”
Several past and present PAN senators lined up to criticize Anaya’s leadership and hold him responsible for Zavala’s exit.
“All this is nothing more than a new expression of a policy of extermination and exclusion that Ricardo Anaya has led as national boss of the PAN,” said Javier Lozano, a former senator for Puebla.
Next year’s election promises to be an interesting battle, as the frontrunner in the polls is neither from the PAN nor the PRI, but the left-wing firebrand Andrés Manuel López Obrador, former mayor of Mexico City and former leader of the PRD and a previous presidential candidate, who now leads the party called Morena.
Those polls have shown the PAN in second place and the PRI in third.