MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The Mexican lower house of Congress on Tuesday rejected a controversial electoral reform backed by the president, after critics said the proposal had the potential to undermine the country's electoral independence.
With 269 votes in favor, 225 votes against, and one abstention, the leading party and its allies fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the bill, which sought to convert the National Electoral Institute (INE) into a smaller and more powerful body of elected officials, alongside other political changes.
Still, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has already initiated an alternative route to get his reform through, having hours earlier sent a new proposal to the lower house. This does not include constitutional changes, and therefore requires only the simple majority the ruling coalition holds.
The new bill, as anticipated, is also somewhat less ambitious, with its main objective to reorganize and redefine the administrative tasks of the INE, as well as closing offices that will allow $150 million a year in savings.
The rejected bill was seen by the political opposition as a threat to democracy and organizations such as Human Rights Watch said that the "regressive" initiative put at risk the continuation of "free and fair" elections.
Lopez Obrador, known by his acronym AMLO, has defended his proposal as a way to strengthen democracy and reduce the influence of economic interests in politics.
In mid-November, a massive protest against the president's electoral reform brought tens of thousands of people to the streets, prompting a counter-march led by the president to support it.
Still, AMLO's insistence on approving his bill before he leaves office in 2024 has had an unexpected result of uniting a fractured opposition and emboldening it ahead of next year's regional elections.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Isabel Woodford; Editing by Sandra Maler)