Mexico referendum rejects part-built $14bn airport project

President-elect Obrador says he will respect voters' decisions, despite referendum being non-binding.

    Obrador has criticised the project as a waste of money, marred by corruption [File: Marco Ugarte/AP Photo]
    Obrador has criticised the project as a waste of money, marred by corruption [File: Marco Ugarte/AP Photo]

    Mexicans voted to scrap the construction of a part-built multibillion-dollar airport near the capital, Mexico City, in a referendum on Sunday.

    The four-day vote was launched by President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday in a move that risks putting his incoming administration on a collision course with investors. 

    Voters were asked to chose whether the incoming government should finish the new $14.5bn New Mexico International Airport (NAIM) project or upgrade a military airbase to be used in addition to the current airport, which is the country's busiest. 

    Sixty-nine percent of those who voted rejected the NAIM option, according to the Arturo Rosenblueth Foundation, a non-profit organisation which ran the count.

    However, turnout was extremely low with only about 1 million people in the country of 129 million participating. 

    The public consultation vote was organised by Obrador's party, Morena, without involvement from the National Electoral Institute (INE). Opposition parties say that the consultation did not follow the proper rules.

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    Several local media outlets reported cases of people voting more than once and pointed out failures in software used to register voter identification cards.

    But Obrador, defended the consultation, saying that there might be mistakes because they were not spending billions of pesos on the process, but insisted that it was clean. 

    While the vote is non-binding, Obrador has pledged to follow the results. 

    An essential upgrade or a waste of money?

    During his presidential campaign, Obrador, popularly known as AMLO, called the NAIM project a waste of money.

    The president-elect, who takes office on December 1, has also criticised the environmental impact of the project and alleged that the scheme was a "bottomless pit" marred by corruption

    The new airport located in the city of Texcoco is already about a third of the way complete. Construction started in 2015 under current President Enrique Pena Nieto

    Pena Nieto's government says the new airport would create up to 450,000 jobs and have the capacity to transit 125 million passengers a year when fully operational.

    Local business leaders and financial analysts supported the current project, saying it is essential to easing pressure on the aging Mexico City International Airport, which handled nearly 45 million passengers in 2017, and warning that scrapping it would send a negative signal to local and foreign investors. 

    Following the news of the result, the peso fell more than one percent against the dollar.

    SOURCE: News agencies