MEXICO CITY – Results released Monday show voters in Mexico approved all ten pet projects of President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a referendum questioned because of low turnout.
Lopez Obrador has touted referendums as a way to give people power in determining policies, but critics say the latest process was hurt by the way the questions were worded, a lack of information and the fact that only about one in 90 registered voters participated.
Lopez Obrador's most controversial plan, a train that would connect the main tourist attractions across the Yucatan Peninsula, had the highest level of rejection at 6.6 percent, but was still approved by 88.9 percent of voters.
The president-elect has set a starting date for pursuing the "Maya Train" after he takes office on Dec. 1, although he hasn't submitted environmental impact statements or consulted indigenous communities.
A group of environmentalists sent a petition asking him to rethink the project.
"Mr. President-elect, we have just come off 30 years in which past administrations have imposed mega-projects on the country without sufficiently serious studies," they wrote in November.
The ballot for the referendum assured voters the train "will not affect the environment," but did not cite any evidence.
Lopez Obrador brushed off experts' criticism, accusing them of being out-of-touch with the people.
"Look at what the petition-signers don't know, I say it with all respect and I recognize the majority are very smart people, but as amazing it sounds, they need to make contact with the people in the countryside," Lopez Obrador wrote of his critics.
The train aims to connect the colonial city of Merida with resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum before it continues through sparsely populated areas like Bacalar, Calakmul and Palenque. Some experts say the northern leg of the route makes economic sense, but the southern part runs across a jungle.
A total of 946,000 people participated in the weekend referendum, which was the second that has been held since Lopez Obrador was elected in a landslide.
The referendum also approved plans to construct an oil refinery, build a rail link between the Pacific and Gulf of Mexico, raise supplementary payments for the elderly, implement a massive reforestation program, and offer free internet and better health care. Each ballot measure, including those concerning youth scholarships and work-training programs, received between 90 and 95 percent approval.
Gustavo de la Vega, a 30-year-old industrial designer, was one of those lined up at a Mexico City voting booth to participate in the referendum Sunday. He voted against the train project because of its cost.
"The idea of a referendum is good, but it was badly organized," said de la Vega. "If it is not done well, it runs the risk of people losing faith in referendums."
In a move that throws into question Lopez Obrador's respect for the constraints on presidential power that have been forged in Mexico over the last 25 years, workers have already started clearing land in a costal mangrove area for the oil refinery.
The project hasn't been formally approved and some doubt whether it makes much financial sense.
Lopez Obrador is irritated by the fact that Mexico imports much of its refined gasoline from the United States because its own refineries aren't up to the task.
A native of the southern state of Tabasco, he also has vowed to champion projects in the country's often poor and underdeveloped southeast.