(Bloomberg) — President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party planned on Thursday to hold a lower house session on the other side of Mexico City after protesting farmers blocked the chamber, preventing a vote on the 2020 spending bill.
“We’re on our way to an alternate site,” Mario Delgado, from Lopez Obrador’s Morena party, said in a video on Facebook as he rode in a bus filled with his lawmakers. “Here all of the Morena parliamentary group is united and ready!” he added, as the video was shifted to show representatives shouting in support “Yes we can.”
Even though Lopez Obrador’s party holds a majority in the lower house, with 259 of its 500 seats, it hasn’t been able to get the bill through the preliminary stages in which finance committees examine and vote on it. In an interview with radio host Joaquin Lopez-Doriga, Delgado predicted that the spending bill will be voted on by tomorrow.
Lawmakers have been completely blocked from access to the lower house site, known as the Legislative Palace of San Lazaro, for 10 days, newspaper El Financiero reported. Thursday’s meeting was to be held at the convention center Expo Santa Fe, more than 10 miles (17 kilometers) away from the legislative chamber.
Legislators missed a Nov. 15 constitutional deadline to pass the bill, the first time that’s happened since a 2004 amendment to prevent budget debates from extending into the new year, according to Ernesto Revilla of Citigroup Inc, who was formerly chief economist at the Finance Ministry.
Internal divisions within Morena, which is as much a social movement as a party, are a significant factor keeping the budget from moving forward, said Veronica Ortiz, a lawyer and co-host on Mexico’s nonpartisan Congress channel. While the Antorcha farmers movement blocking the lower house has historical ties to the Institutional Revolutionary Party that governed for most of the past century, many voted for Lopez Obrador last year.
“Morena and its allies have a majority to approve the budget, but the whole problem is caused by divisions within Morena,” she said. “There’s a rebellion by the representatives who want to negotiate benefits for their districts and constituents, and they’re facing Mario Delgado, who wants to comply with the president’s instruction not to ‘move a comma’ from the finance ministry’s project.”
The conservative National Action Party, the second-largest group in the chamber, said it would boycott the session. PAN lower house leader Juan Carlos Romero Hicks said his party wouldn’t help approve a budget “in the dark”. Delgado and his lawmakers responded by alleging that the PAN misuses funds for political purposes, and that the party doesn’t want to attend because Morena wants to put an end to the practice.
The farmers are demanding more financial support at a time when the government is struggling to rein in spending and maintain a primary budget surplus without sacrificing welfare programs or holding back aid to indebted state-oil company Pemex.