MEXICO CITY—In a historical step that could have huge implications in Mexico's 2006 presidential race, Mexico's Congress on Tuesday approved a constitutional change that would allow millions of Mexicans living abroad, mainly in the United States, to vote in national elections.
After a three-hour session attended by Mexican rights organizations in the United States, legislators voted 391-5 for the measure. Twenty-two legislators abstained.
The bill now goes before the Senate, which must ratify it before it can go into effect.
"After decades of debate and obstacles, the millions of Mexicans who live across the United States and elsewhere, their democratic right to vote is becoming a reality," said congressman Emilio Zebadua, of the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party. "It's not their fault they leave for economic and social reasons, but they're still Mexican."
Currently, Mexicans can vote if they return to Mexico and have voting credentials. Under the new measure, officials estimate that 4 million out of the 10 million Mexicans living in the United States could be eligible to vote. Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, an independent organization that oversees elections, would determine the voting logistics.
"It's the first time they'll be able to vote, and in 2006 the eyes of the world will be upon us," said congresswoman Adriana Gonzalez Carrillo, of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. "We have to show ... we're sincerely committed to consolidating democracy."
The vote comes in the midst of a pre-election year and could influence the 2006 presidential election, even though official candidates have yet to be nominated.
Mexican President Vicente Fox won the presidency after the 71-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI is trying to regain the presidency from Fox's party, PAN, when his term ends in 2006. Fox, by law, can't run again.
Polls show Mexico City Mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the left-of-center Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, as the preferred presidential candidate. But he's tangled up in a legal quandary that could leave him unable to run.
Lopez Obrador is accused of violating a court order to stop expanding a road to a hospital. Federal Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, backed by Fox and the PRI, has asked Congress to lift Lopez Obrador's political immunity so that he can be prosecuted. If the legislators do so, the prosecutor could formally charge him, making Lopez Obrador ineligible to run for the presidency.
The mayor says the accusations are political because opponents want him out of the political picture.
It's possible that if Mexicans living abroad can vote, the mayor's presidential chances could increase. But so could the PRI's, given many Mexicans' discontent with Fox's government, considered the first democracy, because of broken promises, crime, poverty and corruption.
Before the vote, the seven members of a congressional immigration committee told legislators that Mexicans in the United States send back $16 billion a year to their families, which in turn helps state and federal institutions. They added that Mexico would join 60 other nations in allowing immigrants to vote in their countries' elections.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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