Mexico took a big step toward resolving its contested presidential election with the official confirmation of the victory by Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which returns to power after a 12-year hiatus.
The count will almost certainly be the target of legal challenges by leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who alleges that the PRI engaged in vote-buying that illegally tilted millions of votes.
The accusations surfaced last month, but sharpened early this week as thousands of people rushed to grocery stores on the outskirts of Mexico City to redeem pre-paid gift cards worth about 100 pesos (US$7.50). Many said they got the cards from PRI supporters prior to Sunday’s election.
The Mexican Federal Electoral Institute reported late on Thursday that with nearly 100 percent of the ballot boxes counted, about half of them double-checked because of the possibility of fraud, Pena Nieto had more than 38 percent of the vote and Lopez Obrador was second with more than 31 percent. Pena Nieto led by more than 3.3 million votes.
Lopez Obrador has not specified exactly how many votes he believes were bought.
The governing National Action Party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota, who came in third, also said earlier in the day that campaign spending violations had marred the vote, although she stopped short of challenging the legitimacy of the outcome.
The final vote count must be certified in September by the Federal Electoral Tribunal. The tribunal has declined to overturn previously contested elections, including a 2006 presidential vote that was far closer than Sunday’s.
“We need electoral authorities to conduct a detailed review of campaign spending that obviously exceeded legal limits and that was also associated with vote buying,” Vazquez Mota said. “In this election there were clear circumstances of inequity that had a decisive effect on the vote results.”
Vazquez Mota said that while the complaints wouldn’t invalidate the election results, they should motivate changes in electoral laws to prevent such practices in the future.
PRI spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said on Thursday that the gift-card event had been “a theatrical representation” mounted by the left. Sanchez claimed supporters of Lopez Obrador took hundreds of people to the stores, dressed them in PRI T-shirts, gave them gift cards, emptied store shelves to create an appearance of panic-buying and brought TV cameras in to create the false impression that the PRI had given out the cards.
Lopez Obrador campaign spokesman Cesar Yanez denied the PRI accusation.
“That’s absurd. I don’t think even they believe that,” Yanez said. “They would do better to just accept their responsibility.”
Vazquez Mota also complained on Thursday about pre-election polls that put Pena Nieto ahead by double digits, or about double his apparent victory margin. The erroneous polls “could only be interpreted as instruments of propaganda,” she said.