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Second presidential candidate complains about vote-buying in Mexico elections
MEXICO CITY (AP) ¯¯¯ The ruling-party candidate who came third in Mexico's presidential elections said Thursday that campaign spending violations had marred the vote, although she stopped short of challenging the legitimacy of the outcome.
The complaint by National Action Party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota nonetheless added weight to increasing accusations that the apparent winner of Sunday's elections, Enrique Pena Nieto of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, benefited from vote-buying schemes. The accusations are expected to become the basis of legal challenges to the final vote count, which was being completed by electoral authorities Thursday.
The Federal Electoral Institute found that Pena Nieto still had a more than 6 percent lead after a nearly 100 percent count, which included a extra review of more than half the ballot boxes in response to indications of possible problems. The count must be certified in September by Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal, which has declined to overturn previously contested elections, including the 2006 presidential vote that was far closer than Sunday's.
The apparent second-place finisher on Sunday, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has long complained about excessive spending by Pena Nieto prior to Sunday's elections, and he has challenged the preliminary vote tallies showing Pena Nieto as the winner.
On Thursday Vazquez Mota, who is not challenging the results, joined the chorus of criticism, though she did not mention Pena Nieto by name.
"We need electoral authorities to conduct a detailed review campaign spending that obviously exceeded legal limits, and that was also associated with vote-buying," she 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.
The accusations began surfacing during June, but sharpened early this week as thousands of people rushed to grocery stores on the outskirts of Mexico City Tuesday to redeem pre-paid gift cards worth about 100 pesos ($7.50), which many said they had been given to them by supporters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, prior to Sunday's elections.
Simply giving away such gifts is not illegal under Mexican electoral law, as long as the expense is reported to electoral authorities. But giving gifts seeking to influence votes is a crime, though is not generally viewed as grounds for overturning an election.
PRI spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said Thursday that the gift-card scheme had been "a theatrical representation" mounted by the left. Sanchez claimed that supporters of Lopez Obrador had taken hundreds of people to the stores, dressed them in PRI T-shirts, given them gift cards, emptied store shelves to create an appearance of panic-buying, and brought TV cameras in to create the false impression the PRI had given them the cards.
"They mounted a clumsy farce, a theatrical representation in which they dressed people in PRI T-shirts," Sanchez said.
Earlier this week The Associated Press separately interviewed at least a dozen shoppers at one of the stores, all of whom said they had been given the cards by PRI supporters. There was no evidence of any Lopez Obrador supporters at the store.
Cesar Yanez, the spokesman for Lopez Obrador's campaign, denied the PRI accusation.
"That's absurd, I don't think even they believe that," said Yanez. "They would do better to just accept their responsibility."
Vazquez Mota also complained Thursday about pre-election polls that put Pena Nieto ahead by double digits; preliminary vote counts show his lead in votes at around six percent. She said the erroneous polls "could only be interpreted as instruments of propaganda."
Calculations of vote tally sheets and in some cases, a recount of ballots at some polling places, are currently being carried out by electoral authorities. With 97.34 percent of that vote count completed, the margin of victory for Pena Nieto had not varied much from preliminary counts; by late Thursday, he was leading the race with 38.27 percent, compared to 31.48 percent for Lopez Obrador and 25.46 percent for Vazquez Mota.
Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report.