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A stormy 'consultation' on energy reform

A stormy 'consultation' on energy reform

More than 800,000 Mexicans in the metropolitan region went to special polling places on Sunday to register their opinion on the energy reform package being pushed by President Felipe Calderon's conservative PAN party. Depending on your source, it was either a rousing civic success or a shameless fiasco. I'm leaning toward the latter.

The "citizen's consultation" asked two questions on the matter on small rectangular pieces of paper. First, "Currently, the drilling, transport, distribution, storage, and refining of hydrocarbons are activities exclusive to the government. Are you or are you not in agreement that private companies may participate in these activities?" And, "In general, are you or are you not in agreement that the proposals related to energy reform currently being debated in the Congress of the Union should be approved?"

A bit more than 87 percent of respondents said "No" to both questions. Not at all surprising. Dave Biller, an energy correspondent based in Mexico City told me: "The leftist PRD party is playing the poll off as a national referendum, but in reality it's far from representative. It was organized by the left for the left. [...] Leftist voters arrived knowing how they were supposed to vote: no to question 1, and no to question 2."

Which was great news to La Jornada. The paper blasted the results in Monday's edition with a super-sized "¡No!" on the front page. No longer feigning any objectivity on the story, the paper's Sunday edition prominently featured a photograph of PRD activists spelling out in a human formation on the Zocalo the words, "The country is NOT for sale."

Reforma, the austere and business-friendly daily that sits on the other end of the media political spectrum here, was a bit more dubios of the poll. It dismissed the event as a "PRD-style consultation" and published allegations that people in the borough of Iztapalapa showed up to vote in exchange for T-shirts, hats, and even envelopes stuffed with cash. (Unfortunately, online access to content at Reforma remains behind a pay-wall.) Over in Guanajuato, which has yet to hold its energy reform poll, the PAN governor called the whole thing "sterile" and said the Sunday poll was little more than a ploy to create "divisions among Mexicans."

Biller, who has been closely covering the energy reform debate, wrote me: "Plainly put, the poll was a joke. Worse, the PRD will use its results as a basis to justify its opposition to the PAN proposal. 'Look, the country agrees with us!' Their agenda to date consists almost entirely of tearing down the proposal in order to attack the conservative right. The recently-presented PRI proposal was not a subject of the poll, nor was their own prospective proposal."

Clearly, Mexico is facing an epic existential crisis over how to modernize and shore-up the state oil company, which by all accounts is badly in need of it. But with politics so entwined to every aspect of governance here, the likelihood that anything truly constructive comes of the debate -- particularly when Congress re-convenes in the fall -- is an increasingly dim prospect.

* Previously, "AMLO and the battle over Mexico's oil."


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