Selasa, 3 Disember 2013

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Mexican Senate passes electoral bill, clearing way for energy debate


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an electoral reform demanded by the opposition, helping pave the way for Congress to focus on an energy bill at the center of President Enrique Pena Nieto's economic agenda.

Senators voted 106-15 with one abstention to approve the bill in general, but dozens of points were reserved for further debate that was expected to stretch into the night.

The bill, which would allow lawmakers to serve consecutive terms in office and curb the power of the presidency, will then go to the lower house, which is expected to give it final approval in the next few days.

Opposition conservatives demanded passage of the electoral legislation before they would provide their support for an energy bill that would open the state-controlled oil sector to private investment.

Mexico's peso rallied on Tuesday after the leader of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the Senate said that lawmakers could turn to the energy bill as soon as the political reform was approved.

Further boosting the peso, prominent Mexican leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was hospitalized with heart trouble, reducing the likelihood that he will be able to lead street protests against the energy plans.


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

To reverse almost a decade of declining crude output, Pena Nieto proposed 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.

That bill forms part of a package of reforms encompassing efforts to open up the telecommunications sector, improve bank lending and strengthen the tax collection, which the government hopes will help boost growth in Latin America's No. 2 economy.

The 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 needs PAN support to pass the energy bill, which is expected to happen later this month.

The PAN has made its support for the energy overhaul conditional on the electoral reform passing first. The electoral reform sets out rules for coalition governments and aims to strengthen Congress at the expense of the president.

In 2000, the PAN succeeded in ousting the PRI from power after 71 years of uninterrupted rule.

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 bill would also empower electoral authorities to annul elections if the winner exceeded campaign spending limits. Pena Nieto was accused by Lopez Obrador and the PAN of grossly overspending in his campaign.

Senators, whose terms last six years, and lower house deputies, who serve three, will be allowed to sit in each respective chamber of Congress for up to 12 years.

At present, Mexican federal and state lawmakers cannot be directly re-elected to the same office. The reform foresees no change for the president, who can only serve one six-year term.

(Reporting by Dave Graham, Michael O'Boyle and Miguel Gutierrez; Editing by Paul Simao)

Venezuelan president says he has proof blackout was sabotage


CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday he had proof that a massive power outage was caused by saboteurs aiming to throw the country into chaos before municipal elections this weekend.

The blackout on Monday night was the second major power outage the year, plunging much of the country into darkness and prompting accusations of government incompetence from the opposition.

Speaking on state TV alongside Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon and other officials, Maduro briefly showed a photo of what appeared to be a cut conductor cable lying on the floor.

"What motive could there be for leaving a whole country without electricity?" he said, adding that Chacon had brought him the evidence and more details would be unveiled on Wednesday.

"We always face these attacks by the right-wing fascists ... they wanted to make me, as president of the republic, decree a state of emergency and suspend the elections."

Critics of the government say lack of maintenance was likely to blame for the outage.

Maduro said power had been restored in record time and praised the workers involved.

"Whoever made this criminal attack wanted to leave our Venezuela without electricity for 24 to 48 hours ... thinking that would convince people not to continue with the revolution."

Maduro's combative rhetoric echoed his allegations in September, when he also accused the opposition of sabotaging the national grid to discredit him after a blackout that was one of the worst in the OPEC nation's history.

Venezuela has experienced periodic power cuts since 2009, although the capital, Caracas, had been spared the worst of the outages, but it was hit by Monday night's blackout, which cut electricity across about half the country.

Nationwide municipal elections on Sunday are seen as a test of Maduro's political strength after he narrowly won the presidency in April to replace his late mentor, Hugo Chavez.

Since coming to power, Maduro has accused the opposition of plotting to assassinate him, and more recently of trying to undermine his government and wreck the economy through price-gouging and the hoarding of consumer goods.

Critics say the electricity problems symbolize the failure of 15 years of socialist rule in Venezuela, a country of 29 million people with the biggest oil reserves in the world.

Delhi's rubble-strewn Connaught Place mirrors ruling party's election struggle


NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The broken paving stones and exposed cables that mar the neo-Georgian grandeur of India's prime shopping precinct give a glimpse into why the ruling Congress party might struggle to hold on to the capital Delhi in a local election on Wednesday.

Work is still unfinished on a costly face lift to Connaught Place that was meant to showcase Delhi to the world for the 2010 Commonwealth Games and businesses located in what is some of the world's most costly office real estate are furious.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is hopeful a widespread perception that government corruption and incompetence is to blame for shambles like Connaught Place's facelift will feed into voter anger at high prices and unsafe streets, and help it unseat Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit after 15-years in office.

"We are fed up, for the last five years we have lost our business, we had to lay off four employees, we couldn't pay their salaries," said S.P. Jain, a smartly-suited travel agent and money changer in Connaught Place, speaking over the sound of drilling as workmen dug up the pavement outside the shop he has run since 1963.

"Wherever Congress is ruling, there is corruption," Jain said, echoing a complaint heard across India.

The Congress-led national government was voted back to power in 2009 thanks to strong economic performance and populist schemes, but has since tried voters' patience with a string of corruption scandals and economic missteps.

The Delhi election could give some insight into how the world's biggest democracy votes in general elections due by May 2014. Losing the national capital Delhi to the opposition would be a symbolic blow for the Congress party in its lead-up to general elections.


In Delhi, Dikshit is credited with modernizing the city with a metro train, a network of flyovers and progressive policies such as running buses and taxis on natural gas. But the botched hosting of the Commonwealth Games in 2010 cost her a lot of goodwill.

The Games were supposed to be a statement of India's arrival on the world stage. At the time its economy had deftly bounced back from the global financial crisis. Instead, project overruns, corruption and shoddy workmanship focused attention on India's lingering problems.

Facing a strong challenge from the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the Congress party is keen for a boost from the Delhi poll and four other state ballots held in recent weeks to breath life into its so-far lacklustre national campaign. Results for all five elections are due on Sunday.

But there is palpable anger among many Delhi voters at issues ranging from spiralling food prices - the rising cost of onions was credited with bringing Dikshit to power in 1998 and may now be her undoing - to the safety of women after a gang rape that shocked the world in 2012.

Opinion polls suggest the Delhi race is a tight one, in which the emergence of the new anti-corruption Common Man Party could eat into the BJP's advantage and leave a hung assembly.

The strength of a mish-mash of regional parties at the next general election could help Congress limp back to office, as Modi's Hindu-nationalist ideology is unpalatable to many potential coalition partners.


The Connaught Place overhaul originally had an estimated project cost of $12 million. Media reports now put the cost at up to $107 million. Such overruns remind voters of the staggering blow-out at the Commonwealth Games, where costs spiralled to $6 billion from an original budget of $450 million.

The Delhi government blames the problems in renovating the Colonial-era white shopping arcade on the contractor, a state-run company called Engineers India Ltd. Much of the work is now completed, but it is far from perfect with renovations sometimes rough and sidewalks uneven and dirty.

The BJP's candidate for Delhi chief minister Harsh Vardhan last month berated Congress veteran Dikshit for leaving Connaught Place looking like "a remote village" rather than a destination to showcase Delhi to the world.

"Connaught Place is the physical and symbolic centre of India, and Delhi is the physical and symbolic centre of India, you can't do this in five years, it really speaks volumes about the abysmal quality of governance," said political analyst Subhash Agrawal of think-tank India Focus.

"In China they would have done it in two months, corruption is part of it, but there is also bureaucratic waste, bottlenecks and red tape," Agrawal said.

(Editing by Michael Perry)


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