By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
In a sign that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) unbridled political power is finally beginning to wane, opposition members of the country’s lower house Chamber of Deputies mustered enough votes on Sunday, April 17, to block the passage of his controversial electricity reform bill, which would have prioritized contaminating carbon-based energy sources from state-run entities over private-sector clean alternatives.
Although AMLO’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, which holds the majority in both houses of Congress, did obtain a simple majority 275 votes in the chamber polling — including one from centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Deputy Carlos Miguel Aysa Damas, who agreed to cast his ballot in favor of the reform in exchange for his father, former Campeche Governor Miguel Aysa Gonzáles, being ratified as Mexico’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic — the initiative did not pass since, because it would have represented a rewriting of the Constitution, required a two-thirds majority.
Since there are 500 deputies in the chamber, that would have meant a minimum of 333 votes for the bill to pass.
The final vote was 275 in favor and 223 against.
Morena and its allies from the Green Party (PVEM) and Labor Party (PT) hold 277 seats, and the PRI, whose members Morena tried to cajole into supporting the bill through a combination of enticements and intimidations, holds 71 seats.
For the bill to have passed, Morena would have needed opposition parties to provide at least 57 votes necessary to reach a two-thirds majority.
But to the dismay of AMLO — who had demanded that the bill be passed “without even a comma changed” — the PRI caucus, which had been, until two weeks ago, the only opposition parliamentary group that had not rejected the initiative outright, held steady and, with the exception of Aysa Damas, voted against the bill.
Deputies from Mexico’s other opposition parties — the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the coalition Citizen’s Movement (MC) — had declared their objection to the bill when it first arrived at the chamber on Sept. 30 last year.
At that time, the PRI stated that it was “open to dialogue,” and Morena offered a few mostly symbolic changes to the initiative to try to pursue PRI party members to support it.
The Chamber of Deputies session opened Sunday at 10:50 a.m., with 493 of the 500 deputies present.
A heated debate and name-calling fest continued until the vote, just prior to 11 p.m.
All opposition party deputies attended, but there were absences on the part of legislators from Morena, the PT and the PVEM.
Among those absent were Morena deputy and singer Marco Antonio Flores, who is currently in the United States for a concert. Also absent were Morena Deputies Óscar Gutiérrez, Jorge Mujica and Rebeca Valle.
From the PT, Deputies Alberto Anaya and Ana Laura Bernal were no-shows, as was Valeria Santiago from the Green Party.
As the Morena deputies screamed out chants calling the opposition “traitors to the nation,” the opposition responded with their own chant, “No, it’s not going to happen,” referring to the passage of the electricity reform bill.
In an apparent face-saving move, AMLO earlier in the day sent what he described as an “armored” Plan B defense to the Chamber of Deputies in the form of an alternative bill that would guarantee that the nation’s lithium reserves remain in the hands of the government, an essentially moot point given that there is currently no foreign investment in or significant mining of lithium in Mexico.
The issue of the nationalization of the country’s lithium reserves had been a tag-on to the electricity reform bill.
To appease the president after the fatal blow against his electricity reform, the Morena deputies said Sunday that they would bring the bill to a vote on Monday, April 18.
Since that bill would only require a simple majority to pass (since it does not imply a rewriting of the Mexican Constitution), it is expected to be approved without much ado.
During his daily morning press conference on Monday, April 18, AMLO called all the deputies that voted against the passage of his bill “traitors to the nation,” while applauding — literally — those who voted in favor of it.