LATIN AMERICA

Senate set to approve Peña Nieto’s political reform without PRD votes

Leftist senators boycott talks aimed at making important changes to Constitution

Residents walk by a poster in favor of political reform hung outside the Senate in Mexico City in August.
Residents walk by a poster in favor of political reform hung outside the Senate in Mexico City in August.Sonia Corona

The Mexican Senate was scheduled to begin debating widespread changes to the country’s political structures on Tuesday as an important sector of leftist lawmakers was expected to continue boycotting the discussions.

Senators representing the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and conservative National Action Party (PAN) worked into the early hours of Tuesday in five committees to hammer out the major changes to Mexico political structure.

The leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which has protested the negotiations, claims President Enrique Peña Nieto is trying to railroad political reform and the restructuring of the energy sector through Congress without holding talks with its members concerning last-minute changes to the proposals.

Only two members of the minor Workers’ Party (PT) took part in the marathon discussions that began on Monday.

On November 28, PRD leaders announced they were abandoning the three-party Pact for Mexico alliance they had signed on to one year ago after they accused Peña Nieto of secretly bargaining with the PAN for changes to his announced political and energy reforms.

Among the proposals agreed to at about 3am were 25 modifications to the Mexican Constitution, which include allowing for the re-election of deputies, senators and mayors. Discussions over the re-election of the president were not held since there has been little support for this change.

PRI Senator Omar Fayad bemoaned the PRD’s absence, saying it was “missing a great opportunity to join everyone to push on for the reforms.”

Only the PRD’s Alejandro Encinas, chairman of one of the committees working on the reforms, appeared briefly at the opening of his panel’s meeting to reiterate his party’s position. “This pretense to establish the direct re-election of deputies and senators is unacceptable. No one should be able to legislate for their own benefit,” Encinas said.

No one should be able to legislate for their own benefit”

The PAN has been the driving force behind the measure, which will allow lawmakers to be re-elected for up to 12 years when their current term is up (in 2015 for deputies and 2018 for senators). Senators in Mexico hold six-year terms while deputies are elected to three-year terms.

“We were elected by clear rules and laws that precisely define the end of our mandate,” said Encinas.

Nevertheless, the proposal was modified to make it mandatory for senators and deputies to announce at the middle of their terms whether they intend to run for re-election for the same party. The original proposal had prevented lawmakers from switching parties while in office.

“This makes it impossible for an independent to run,” charged PRD Senator Manuel Camacho Solis, who once belonged to the PRI.

Another important change will allow elections in any district to be declared invalid if candidates exceed their permitted campaign expenditures. Any politician found guilty of violating the law will be sanctioned and banned from running for office again. The measure also calls for severe punishments for candidates who use illicit money to finance their campaigns.

The reform also addresses changes in the federal public prosecutor’s office, which will now be called the National Prosecutor’s Office for Justice, and create a National Election Institute out of the current Federal Electoral Institute, which will be semi-centralized with councils from across Mexico in charge of organizing elections in 32 states and the federal district.

PAN Senator José María Martínez said the PRD “should not hold the political reform hostage” with objections it may have that “can be aired out in another forum and at another time.”

With its congressional allies, the Green Party and the New Alliance Party, the PRI and the PAN hold 100 of the 128 seats in the senate, which will gave it an ample majority to pass the reform later Tuesday.

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