|Page (1) of 1 - 07/06/12||email article||print page|
Pena Nieto takes another step toward restoring PRI to power with Mexico's official vote count
MEXICO CITY (AP) ¯¯¯ Mexico took a big step toward resolving its contested presidential election with the official confirmation of the victory by Enrique Pena Nieto, the candidate seeking to return the former autocratic ruling party to power after a 12-year hiatus.
The count by the country's electoral authority will almost certainly become the target of legal challenges by leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who alleges Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, engaged in vote-buying that illegally tilted millions of votes.
The accusations began surfacing in June, 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 ($7.50). Many said they got the cards from supporters of 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 to influence votes is a crime, though is not generally viewed as grounds for overturning an election.
The Federal Electoral Institute reported late Thursday that with nearly 100 percent of the ballot boxes counted, about half of them double-checked due to 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 current governing party candidate, 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 complaint by National Action Party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota nonetheless added weight to growing accusations that Pena Nieto benefited from vote-buying schemes.
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 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.
"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."
Lopez Obrador presented thousands of more cards Thursday that he said had been given to PRI voters in exchange for support, saying that scheme and other vote-buying had occurred in a number of states, and brought the PRI millions of illegal votes. The candidate said his team would realize an exact figure in the coming days.
"We're getting a sense of the size of the vote-buying and the damage it caused," campaign coordinator Ricardo Monreal said.
Vazquez Mota also complained Thursday about pre-election polls that put Pena Nieto ahead by double digits, or about double his apparent victory margin. She said the erroneous polls "could only be interpreted as instruments of propaganda."
Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report.