Mexico's ruling party moves toward allowing outsider presidential candidate

Mexican Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade greets Claudia Pavlovich (not pictured), governor of Sonora state, during a women's empowerment event in Mexico City, Mexico, August 9, 2017. REUTERS/Ginnette Riquelme

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took a key step on Wednesday toward allowing non-party members, such as Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade, to run for president in next year’s election.

A commission reviewing PRI statutes voted to make the change on Wednesday, Mexican newspapers reported, but the move must still be approved by a wider group on Saturday, according to a source close to PRI secretary general Claudia Ruiz Massieu.

The change would open the door to the candidacy of Meade, a softly-spoken technocrat who has served various cabinet posts in both PRI and conservative National Action Party (PAN) governments.

Although he has long served in government, Meade has not been tainted by the corruption that has gradually eroded support for the centrist PRI since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in 2012. Despite economic reforms, anger has grown at gang violence and tepid growth.

If Meade became a presidential candidate he would likely face outspoken leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a 2018 vote. The PRI is in third place ahead of the vote, a July poll showed.

PRI President Enrique Ochoa stressed the need for the party to change its ways ahead of the election.

“A modern party should establish open and flexible mechanisms for citizen participation, both those who are party activists, and those who support us,” Ochoa said in remarks distributed to reporters on Wednesday.

Reporting by Julia Love and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Michael Perry