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Mexican Congress committees OK electoral reform

MEXICO CITY--Mexican congressional committees on Monday gave the green light to an electoral reform demanded by the opposition, paving the way for lawmakers to push ahead with the energy sector overhaul at the center of President Enrique Pena Nieto's reform agenda.

The reform will allow federal lawmakers to serve consecutive terms, sets out rules for coalition governments and should strengthen Congress at the expense of the president. It is the last major hurdle to approval of the energy reform.

The Senate committees gave the reform general approval, and must now deal with various reservations to the bill before it passes to the floor of the upper chamber for a general vote. It would then move to the lower house for approval.

The progress on the electoral bill comes after Mexico's main leftist party pulled out of a political pact that Pena Nieto's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) forged a year ago with opposition leaders to push through economic reforms.

To reverse almost a decade of declining crude output, Pena Nieto wants to open up the state-controlled oil sector to allow private investors to team up with oil monopoly Pemex and share in profits of exploration and production.

The opposition conservative National Action Party (PAN), the PRI's natural ally on the energy revamp, is pushing for more lucrative contracts to be offered, such as concessions, and lawmakers say they are exploring options for a deeper reform.

Long the dominant force in Mexican politics, the PRI lacks a majority in Congress and will need PAN support to pass the energy bill, which is expected to happen later this month.

In 2000, the PAN succeeded in ejecting the PRI from power after it had ruled for 71 consecutive years.

When Pena Nieto recaptured the presidency last year, opposition parties resolved to use their leverage in Congress to weaken the PRI's grip on the Mexican political system. The electoral reform is partly aimed at doing that.

The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), which is opposed to opening the oil sector to private investors, withdrew from the cross-party pact last week, raising hopes the PRI and the PAN will agree to a more far-reaching energy reform.

The energy bill is part of a package of reforms spanning telecommunications to bank lending and taxation that the government hopes will help boost weak growth in Latin America's No. 2 economy.

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