06 July 2009

Calderón's right-hand man resigns


Germán Martínez promised big things upon winning the PAN presidency by acclamation in December 2007 - a move that analysts say was ushered in by President Felipe Calderón, who wanted to wrest control of his party from rival factions, and had been friends with Martínez from their days as young Panistas in Michoacán.

Martínez promised unity for a party that was split among warring factions, and divided over the leadership of polemic outgoing president Manuel Espino, whose conservative and Catholic factions never warmed to the 2006 candidacy of President Felipe Calderón. Martínez also promised to put an end to an electoral losing streak that had cost the PAN state and local governments in places such as Yucatán, Aguascalientes and Mazatlán. He said that the continuation of such electoral calamities - blamed on party infighting over nominations - would ultimately result in the PAN losing the presidency in 2012.

The losing continued throughout 2008, however. Martínez attributed those electoral misfortunes to geography; local elections were held in such PAN wastelands as Baja California Sur, Hidalgo and Guerrero that year. But late last year, he promised that 2009 would be different. He promised that the PAN would retain its leading stature in the Chamber of Deputies and win many of the six governor's races being held in 2009. He pointedly promised to win Nuevo León back from the PRI.

He promised too much.

Martínez resigned as PAN president on Monday after leading the party to an election night debacle in which the PRI and its ally the Green Party (PVEM) gained a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. Even worse, the PAN lost five of the six governors races, including Nuevo León. Other losses came in PAN strongholds such as Querétaro and San Luis Potosí, where the PAN was knocked from power. The party also was decimated in places such as the conservative heartland of Jalisco as the PRI took 12 of the 20 seats in the state congress and the four big municipalities that comprise the Guadalajara metropolitan area. The PRI also displaced the PAN in its State of Mexico strongholds to the west of Mexico City - most notably in Nuacalpan and the state capital, Toluca.

Some of the PAN's lack of electoral success could be blamed on external factors such as the global economic crisis, an economy weakened by the outbreak of swine flu, and public security problems. The PRI also got its act together after being humbled in the 2006 election.

But Martínez - who some PAN politicians acknowledge works closely with Calderón - both annoyed and alienated many party members with his tactics, which were branded undemocratic. The PAN National Executive Committee appointed the majority of PAN congressional candidates in 2009, along with gubernatorial candidates in places such as Nuevo León. The practice drew accusations of Martínez using the "dedazo," an old PRI practice of the president hand-picking his successor that had been decried by many Panistas during their days of being erstwhile members of the opposition.

Martínez also was the public face of a fierce PAN electoral offensive that accused the PRI of being a half-hearted participant in the war on drugs and blamed it for failing to tackle the cartel problem during the years that it ruled the country. That strategy may have worked; it perhaps prevented the July 5 vote from being a complete wipe out, but not much more.

That strategy angered many in the PRI, whose leadership largely responded to the attacks in a non-combative fashion. And now with the PRI wielding power in San Lazaro, Martínez became an obstacle to Calderón pushing any sort of reforms through Congress in the latter half of his administration. Martínez's departure became even more necessary since the lower house is entirely responsible for the passing the budget - the PAN-led Senate has no role in the process.

No replacement has been named for Martínez, who assumed full responsibility for the elections outcome in his resignation address. (Calderón surely deserves some of the blame, too.) Espino weighed in earlier in the day by calling on Martínez to humble himself. No doubt, many disaffected Panistas - those on the outs with Calderón, the conservative-Catholic Panistas in Western Mexico, and those loyal to former PAN presidential candidate and legal bigwig Diego Fernández de Cevallos, former president Vicente Fox and, of course, Espino - will no doubt be jockying for control of the party in the coming months.

And what about Sen. Santiago Creel? PAN presidents appoint the party's parliamentary leaders. Could he be in line for a comeback, or another run at the PAN nomination in 2012? Perhaps. But Calderón surely must go down as the biggest loser in this affair; Martínez was his right-hand man.

This article ran in The News last December, one year after Martínez became PAN president.

For right-hand man, time to get it right

By David Agren
The News

Monday marks one year since Germán Martínez took the helm of the governing National Action Party amid allegations that, instead of promoting internal unity and ending a string of embarrassing election defeats as hoped, he has purged rivals from the party leadership and presided over a disastrous year at the polls.

Back in the fall of 2007, Martínez was tapped by President Felipe Calderón to restore order in the PAN, which was rife with internal conflict and led by an executive at odds with Los Pinos. He was to guide the party into 2009, when anticipated success in midterm elections would facilitate the president's agenda of reforms.

The jury is still out on the effectiveness of Martínez's short reign as party president. Some analysts and PAN lawmakers say it is still too soon to pass judgment. At the end of his first year, some conflicts are still simmering - particularly a rift with the faction loyal to former party president Manuel Espino - and he has presided over a string of unsuccessful election results at the state and local level.

But everyone agrees that next year will test Martínez's mettle as he leads the governing party into midterm elections that come amid a sharp economic downturn, a bloody and increasingly difficult war on drug trafficking cartels and a revival of the previously downtrodden Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

"The acid test is next year, with six governorships at stake," said ITAM political science professor Federico Estévez.

The PAN's unimpressive local election results in 2008 have been received poorly in some circles within the party.

"It's evidently a reflection on the inner workings of the party at the municipal, state and federal levels," PAN Deputy Cristian Castaños told The News.

In spite of the losses - many of them in states that traditionally vote against the PAN, anyway - the lawmaker was quick to credit Martínez with taking necessary, if not universally popular, steps toward modernizing PAN policies, working cooperatively with rival political party leaders and keeping a lid on internal discord.

In April, the PAN loosened restrictions preventing non-members from running as party candidates in order to tap a larger pool of talent and avoid nomination squabbles in cliquish local committees.

Martínez also deepened relations with the presidents of opposition parties by striking agreements over how to keep illicitly gained funds out of election campaigns and issuing a joint condemnation of the Sept. 15 grenade attacks during Independence Day celebrations in Morelia.

Martínez even made attempts to reach out to some of the PAN's estranged factions - most notably, former President Vicente Fox, who was given an advisory position to the party's Strategic Planning Commission.

"The easiest path [for Martínez] was not to make any noise, not fight anyone, and don't pay any cost," said Castaño.

Martínez assumed the party presidency without a fight. No other PANista dared oppose Calderón's longtime collaborator and anointed candidate for deposing a regime headed by Espino. (Espino had fought Calderón's presidential aspirations and at times since 2006, had even hindered the newly elected president's ability to effectively wield power from Los Pinos.)

The ascent of Martínez, a Michoa-cán native like Calderón and a former federal comptroller, to the PAN presidency accelerated a process through which Calderón seized control of the party and began tightening the close inner circle of confidants he has depended on for governing during much of his second year in office.

Martínez adopted a similar style to that of Calderón. He renewed the party's National Executive Committee by appointing members close to the president, and sacked long-time Calderón rival Santiago Creel as Senate leader in June.

The move would give a "push" to the stalled energy reform negotiations, he said.

The changes spurred accusations that he was carrying out a purge, especially after the new PAN leadership in the Senate ultimately agreed to an energy reform deal that many analysts described as "watered down."

But then, the plan went awry. Calderón and Martínez were forced to open their inner circle with the Nov. 4 death of Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño in a plane crash. The factions loyal to former PAN presidential candidate Diego Fernández de Cevallos and former party president Luis Felipe Bravo Mena were brought back into the fold when Calderón appointed Fernando Gómez Mont as interior secretary, and Bravo Mena as chief of staff.

Those moves could ultimately undercut both Calderón and Martínez, according to UNAM political science professor Francisco Reveles.

"There's been a modification in the relationships between the PAN's internal groups that doesn't favor President Felipe Calderón or the president of the party," he said. "The president and his team is having to [make] an agreement with other groups."

Some disagree. ITAM political science professor Jeffrey Weldon, for one, said that cracking open the inner circle would not bring peril, explaining that Fernández de Cevallos still commands respect within the party and that Calderón has simply ended a needless spat. Thawing relations with Espino, often identified as a leader of one of the PAN's most conservative factions, was another matter.

"The Espino faction will stay on the outs for some time, although [they] still control a bunch of states," Weldon said.

Espino, a figure known for sharp outbursts and the current leader of an umbrella group of Christian Democratic parties known as ODCA, has continued being polemic even after having left office. He has questioned Calderón's tactics of working closely with the PRI, saying such moves would only discredit the party. Espino also announced last Thursday that he would once again become active in the PAN leadership - a right bestowed upon all former party presidents.

But the announcement of his return coincided with the PAN leadership's eviction of the ODCA and Espino from the offices they had been lent by the party.

PAN Deputy Gerardo Priego called the gesture "rude" - the offices had been vacant for nine years before ODCA arrived - and said the eviction was evidence of the contradictions in the party leadership's claims that it was eager to find unity. "The discourse is inclusive . [but] if you're pretending to be inclusive, you have to show it in your actions," said Priego.

Espino told reporters last week that he was returning to the forefront of the PAN "so that this string of electoral defeats in our party doesn't continue."

Indeed, even though the election cycle appears to favor the PAN next year, with gubernatorial races being staged in its heartland states of San Luis Potosí and Querétaro, much is at stake in 2009, and no one is certain Martínez can do it alone. The party hopes to gain ground in states such as Nuevo León, Sonora, Campeche and Colima - and some say the pressure will really be on Martínez if the PAN fails to live up to expectations.

"If [Martínez] doesn't win Nuevo León, it would be a defeat for the party," Weldon said. "He has to hold his states, and ideally, pick up another one in either Sonora or Colima."

Priego is one PANista who expresses hope for 2009. But he also said that tactics needed to change. And, he said, Martínez would be better served by a different team of electoral advisors.

"Those who are directing the party don't have a history of working at the municipal or state committee level," the deputy from Tabasco said. "They don't know grassroots politics. They need to complement their [teams] with people [who have] this experience."

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