** Originally published on April 23 at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Inside the compound last Monday, the chief of Mexico's former ruling party called a news conference with the sole purpose of reading a letter aimed at a rival, with no questions from reporters allowed.
Outside, a small but energetic group of party members was blocking a major avenue and clashing with riot police. The group was calling for "respect to the rank and file," protesting how the party was choosing its candidates for local offices in this year's elections. Two members were arrested, police said.
It was an afternoon confrontation that some witnesses described as a frequent scene outside the well-guarded headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, the front-runner in the presidential campaign.
"They divide the candidacies between them, it's a business," Gabriel Lara, a party commissioner in Mexico City, said after the chaotic scene, referring to local PRI leaders.
Although the PRI appears poised to easily retake power in Mexico behind presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, it also shows signs of internal conflict. The "inconformes," as the dissenters are called, claim unfair or corrupt practices among party officials in Mexico City, where the PRI is a relatively minor force compared with the dominant Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, a leftist party.
In recent weeks, PRI protests have also been held in the central state of Morelos, where more than 2,000 protesters have demanded a cleaner internal election process at the state-level PRI headquarters.
Rogelio Hernandez, a historian who specializes in the PRI at the Colegio de Mexico, said that the party is a "homogenous entity" with a complex family tree of factions and internal groups, so local and state conflicts are to be expected.
"The PRI has had a long history of problems in its internal processes," Hernandez said. "The leaderships try to manipulate the votes. It's a negotiation of a handing-out of posts, all stuff we don't have access to as common human beings."
Calls made to the local PRI offices were not returned.
Still, a few disgruntled party members don't seem likely to chip at the PRI's large national lead heading into the July 1 vote for president.
Peña Nieto, the party's presidential candidate, commands double-digit leads in polls over his nearest rival. Peña Nieto, a telegenic 45-year-old who is married to a television soap-opera actress, has kept away from unscripted public events since the campaign started, after a series of gaffes late last year.
Yet despite the claims against the local PRI outfit, protesters in Mexico City last week said they would still support Peña Nieto for president. He would be the first PRI candidate elected president since the end of the party's 71-year rule in 2000.
"The Peña factor is a unifying factor for priistas," said Lara, the PRI member. "He is the glue for the party rank and file."
Photo: Protesters face off against Mexico City police in front of the Institutional Revolutionary Party's national headquarters on April 16.