REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY — Manlio Fabio Beltrones, one of Mexico's most savvy politicians, has dropped his presidential ambitions, a move that simplifies the 2012 contest. (link in Spanish)
Beltrones, a senator and veteran leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), effectively ceded the field to Enrique Pena Nieto, the party's former governor of the state of Mexico and front-runner in the presidential race.
Beltrones, a former governor of Sonora state once linked by media reports to drug traffickers -- an allegation he vigorously denied -- said in a video message that his decision to step aside "is not a sacrifice but is my contribution to the party's victory in 2012." (link in Spanish)
Pena Nieto's rise as virtual party nominee (it won't be official until March under electoral rules; the election is in July) follows the anointment of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the consensus candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. Lopez Obrador narrowly lost the last presidential race in 2006.
Now only the conservative National Action Party of President Felipe Calderon has to choose a candidate. Three people are vying for the nomination: former Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero, Sen. Santiago Creel and former Education Minister Josefina Vazquez Mota, who is leading most polls. (link in Spanish) If selected, Mota would be the first female presidential candidate of a major political party in Mexico.
Meanwhile, Mexico faces a particularly perilous challenge looking ahead to next year's voting: the possible intrusion of "narco-politics." This month's local elections in Calderon's home state of Michoacan were badly marred by presumed drug gangs who threatened election workers and told people how to vote. The Milenio TV network on Tuesday aired a chilling audio recording of what it said was a trafficker known as "The Dog" threatening to kill residents of two Michoacan towns unless they voted for the PRI. (link in Spanish)
"From now until next year," Poire said, "we have to do everything possible to guarantee a peaceful electoral process in which the expression of organized crime is eliminated."
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Manlio Fabio Beltrones, left, addresses a conference in Queretaro, Mexico, last month. Front-running presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, right, listens in the background. Credit: Demian Chavez / Reuters