Pena Nieto Rejects Vote-Buying Charges After Stores Shuttered

Mexico’s incoming president Enrique Pena Nieto pushed back against charges that his party paid for votes as authorities finish a recount confirming his victory.

Pena Nieto, in an interview with CNN, questioned the accuracy of images purportedly showing shoppers mobbing supermarkets to use gift cards provided by his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in exchange for vote promises.

“There’s no grounds” for much of these allegations, Pena Nieto said. “Let’s give the electoral tribunal a chance to weigh the evidence presented regarding these statements which, as I repeat, have no grounds.”

Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has challenged preliminary results showing him finishing 6.5 percentage points behind Pena Nieto, calling the contest “a national embarrassment” and accusing the PRI of spending “billions of pesos” to buy votes after being out of power for 12 years. His coalition said it had detected irregularities at more than half of polling stations, though foreign observers have praised authorities’ handling of the vote.

Mexico City officials shuttered two supermarkets belonging to the Organizacion Soriana SAB chain following the July 1 election after they were mobbed by shoppers cashing in gift cards, citing safety concerns.

Standing outside a closed Soriana store in Mexico City, Rogelio Garcia said people wearing PRI T-shirts came to his home last week and put a party sticker on his front door in exchange for two gift cards worth a total of 2,300 pesos ($172). The retailer has denied any involvement in the card distribution, and the PRI has denied any vote-buying.

“The woman said she came on behalf of the PRI,” Garcia said. “People said, ‘don’t take it,’ but why not? I voted for whomever I wanted in the end.”

Vote Recount

A recount of votes by the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, gave Pena Nieto 38.3 percent, compared with 31.5 percent for Lopez Obrador and 25.5 percent for Josefina Vazquez Mota of the National Action Party, or PAN. The figures are similar to those in the preliminary count challenged by Lopez Obrador.

While saying she would respect the election’s results, Vazquez Mota called on electoral authorities today to “review, with great detail, campaign spending that evidently was greater than the limit established by law, and which in addition has been associated with buying and forcing votes.”

The number of cards involved in the allegations, at least 9,000, “could make it more probable to formulate that a crime of buying or forcing votes was committed,” said Ricardo Becerra, a coordinator for IFE’s advisers.

Widespread Practice

“We’re not asking for any favors, we’re asking for the law to be respected,” Lopez Obrador told reporters July 3 at his campaign headquarters in Mexico City.

The practice of giving out electoral paraphernalia is widespread, said Roderic Ai Camp, a Mexico specialist and government professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.

“It’s true of all parties,” he said by phone. “Militants at the local level are still using these techniques from years ago. And of course there’s not empirical data that it actually affects people’s behavior.”

The practice is only illegal if it is meant to directly affect how you’re going to vote, “and of course that’s a pretty vague notion,” Ai Camp said.

Preliminary results from the IFE had shown Pena Nieto captured 38.2 percent of votes, compared with 31.6 percent for Lopez Obrador. Pena Nieto received 3.19 million votes more than Lopez Obrador, the data show.

Transparent

Mexican authorities are calling the July 1 vote the most- transparent in the country’s history and a mission of foreign observers led by former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria also gave their approval, saying that whatever irregularities were detected don’t take away from what was a well-run election.

Still, dozens of protesters gathered July 3 outside IFE’s main office in Mexico City, shouting anti-PRI and anti-Pena Nieto chants. They were separated from the complex’s gates by a two-deep cordon of at least 100 police officers clad in green reflective jackets.

Lopez Obrador, 58, lost the 2006 election to current President Felipe Calderon by less than a percentage point. To protest the result, which he said was fraudulent, he occupied Mexico City’s central plaza and main business avenue for weeks with encampments.

The candidate has given no indication he will follow a similar strategy this time round, instead saying complaints about the election will be filed to the electoral institute.

“The irony is that if he hadn’t behaved the way he did six years ago in not recognizing the election results he would have very likely won this election,” Ai Camp said.

Market Reaction

Mexico’s peso depreciated 0.65 percent today to 13.4205 against the U.S. dollar from 13.3337 yesterday. Yields on benchmark peso bonds maturing in 2024 fell 7 basis points, or 0.07 percentage point, to 5.324 percent.

In 2006, the peso lost 6.3 percent in the six months leading up to the election. This year, it gained 4.3 percent over the same period, making it the best performer among major currencies.

Pena Nieto has pledged initiatives to increase Mexico’s tax collection, boost formal employment and allow greater private investment in the oil industry.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Martin in Mexico City at emartin21@bloomberg.net; Nacha Cattan in Mexico City at ncattan@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net.

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