29 July 2008

Citizens consulted on oil

Former mayor votes
Former Mexico City mayor Alejandro Encinas casts a ballot in a non-binding referendum on energy reform promoted by opponents of the plan.

The News

Residents in the capital and nine states weighed in Sunday on the future of the country's petroleum sector by casting votes in a non-binding referendum sponsored by a coalition of left-wing political parties.

A Consulta Mitofsky exit poll showed more than 80 percent of respondents voting "No" on the two questions, which asked if private companies should participate in the oil industry and if the lawmakers should approve the energy reform legislation submitted in early April by President Felipe Calderón.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, unveiled the referendum two months ago as a means of derailing Calderón's plan to expand private sector involvement in the country's petroleum sector and grant the state-run oil concern Pemex more autonomy.

The consultation, or "consulta," initially captured significant media and public attention, but the buzz diminished as the capital government began dealing with public dissatisfaction over the handling of a botched nightclub raid and the PRD was forced to annul its internal election due to widespread vote tampering and allegations of dirty tricks. 

Still, organizers anticipated that up to five million people nationwide would participate in the consultations, which are scheduled to be carried out in three stages through Aug. 24.

Voters began trickling into the nearly 4,400 polling stations around the capital at 8 a.m. Brigades of promoters petitioned passersby to participate, but turnout appeared light.

"It's just like the presidential election - the whole thing has already been decided," said parking attendant Roberto Pascual, who abstained from voting.

Polling stations outside of Mexico City reported even lower turnouts.

"People are really apathetic," said Guillermo Aguilar, a government employee manning a Coyoacán polling station. 

"The whole thing has been discredited by the press," he added.

Some press reports said that employees in the local government were pressured into working the consultation, but Aguilar said that he willingly volunteered and only received a T-shirt, ball cap and box lunch in exchange for his services.

Consultation participants were required to show a valid voter identification, but ballots were marked with a black crayon in plain sight of the polling station workers.

City social worker Fernando Najera voted "No" on both questions, saying the Calderón plan was "privatization ... but they just gave it a different name."

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