October 25, 2018 / 3:26 PM / 20 days ago

Incoming Mexico government starts public consultation on new airport

MEXICO CITY, Oct 25 (Reuters) - The incoming government of leftist President-elect Manuel Lopez Obrador opened polls on Thursday for a public consultation to decide whether to ditch a multi-billion dollar new airport that is already partly built.

The public will be polled from Oct. 25 to Oct. 28 on whether Lopez Obrador's government should finish the ambitious new Mexico City airport or scrap it and upgrade the Santa Lucia military air base to complement the existing hub.

The consultation will be held in over 500 municipalities, covering about 80 percent of Mexico's population, incoming transportation minister Javier Jimenez Espriu said this month.

The results of the poll, which will be key to how the new government makes its final decision, will be the first test of Lopez Obrador's economic policy and his relations with the country's business elite he criticized during the campaign.

Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1 after a landslide victory, jokingly asked reporters to turn off their cameras as he cast his ballot at a Mexico City polling station, saying his vote was secret.

He ruled out an impact on the economy, saying contracts to develop the new airport would be "backed, protected, no injustice will be committed" even if the project is scrapped.

Some business leaders have warned that if the project is canceled it would spook investors and could hit the Mexican peso and government bonds.

We will "guarantee impartiality, guarantee investment, and guarantee that there will be no corruption, zero corruption," Lopez Obrador said.

Opposition parties have complained about the organization of the consultations, saying it has not followed rules for referendums.

"This consultation is unnecessary, since it will only serve to justify the decision that the president-elect has already made, and which he made public during his electoral campaign," the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution said in a statement.

The incoming president has railed against the new airport, saying it has been tainted by corruption and will be more costly than projected.

The new airport has been under construction on the drained bed of Lake Texcoco on the eastern flank of Mexico City since 2015 and is around 20 to 30 percent complete

The Texcoco airport is projected to cost 285 billion Mexican pesos ($14.6 billion) compared with an original estimate of 195 billion pesos, according to incoming transportation minister Jimenez Espriu.

$1 = 19.4640 Mexican pesos Reporting by Anthony Esposito Editing by Susan Thomas

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