July 6 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he isn’t satisfied with the partial recount of ballots that confirmed Enrique Pena Nieto’s July 1 victory and is deciding day by day how to protest the result.
Lopez Obrador reiterated claims that Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, used gift cards and other “well-designed” strategies to buy millions of votes. He said he would follow legal channels to challenge the results.
“We’re working to demonstrate with seriousness and precision how many votes were bought, and where and how money was involved in this immoral, fraudulent operation,” Lopez Obrador told reporters today at his Mexico City headquarters. “This is what we’re doing, and we’re going to dedicate all of the weekend to this.”
Lopez Obrador challenged preliminary results that showed him trailing Pena Nieto by 6.6 percentage points. His accusations gained credibility after television images showed shoppers mobbing supermarkets to use gift cards allegedly provided by the PRI in exchange for vote promises. Lopez Obrador’s coalition said it detected irregularities at more than half of polling stations, though foreign observers have praised authorities’ handling of the vote.
Lopez Obrador said PRI state governors were the biggest organizers of vote buying. He said in a press conference yesterday the practice was widespread in the state of Mexico, where Pena Nieto was governor from 2005 to 2011.
A final tally that includes a recount of more than half of the 50.3 million votes cast was completed today, according to data on the website of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE. It showed Pena Nieto received 38.2 percent of votes, compared with 31.6 percent for Lopez Obrador. That is little changed on the preliminary count.
When asked by a reporter what he seeks to accomplish through his challenge of the election, Lopez Obrador said he hopes to “defend democracy, defend the votes of citizens, and not accept any electoral falsification.” In response to a question about whether he wants a new election, he said “we’re going to be gradually talking about it.”
A group called “I Am Mexico” on its Twitter page called for marches in the nation’s main plazas tomorrow against Mexican media coverage of the election, the PRI and electoral fraud. Lopez Obrador’s campaign said that the march is organized by citizens and the candidate isn’t involved.
The PRI yesterday demanded a probe of what it said were false claims by Lopez Obrador. The party was “framed” to appear to be distributing the retail cards, according to an e-mailed statement.
Pena Nieto, in an interview with CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour, questioned the accuracy of images purportedly showing shoppers mobbing supermarkets to use gift cards provided by the PRI.
“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.”
Officials in the nation’s capital shuttered two supermarkets belonging to Organizacion Soriana SAB, Mexico’s second largest retailer, after they were mobbed by shoppers with gift cards, citing safety concerns.
Standing outside one of the closed Soriana stores 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.
“The woman said she came on behalf of the PRI,” Garcia said on July 4. “People said, ‘don’t take it,’ but why not? I voted for whomever I wanted in the end.”
While Josefina Vazquez Mota, the ruling National Action Party candidate that placed third, said she would respect the election’s results, she called on authorities yesterday to “review, with great detail, campaign spending that evidently was greater than the limit established by law, and which also has been associated with buying and forcing votes.”
Vazquez Mota received 25.4 percent of votes, IFE data show.
Buying or Forcing Votes
The number of gift 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,” Ricardo Becerra, a coordinator for IFE’s advisers, said in a phone interview yesterday in Mexico City.
Nevertheless, “buying or forcing a vote does not appear as one of the causes for voiding elections,” Becerra said.
The practice of giving out electoral paraphernalia and gifts 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. Officials “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.
Mexican authorities are calling the election the most transparent in the country’s history and a mission of foreign observers led by former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria also gave its approval, saying irregularities don’t take away from what was a well-run election.
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, his supporters occupied Mexico City’s central plaza and main business avenue for weeks with encampments. He also registered legal challenges with electoral authorities.
The candidate has given no indication he will lead protests this time, instead saying complaints about the election will be filed to the electoral institute and tribunal.
“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.
A recount of congressional races also began yesterday, and with close to half of the votes tallied for the lower house, the PRI-led coalition was falling short of a majority, in line with preliminary results. Authorities are recounting 61 percent of ballot boxes for the congressional race and results may be released this weekend.
Jorge Carlos Ramirez, Pena Nieto’s deputy campaign chief, estimated July 2 the PRI-led alliance will have about 241 lawmakers in the 500-seat lower house. In the Senate, the PRI and allied Green Party will get at most 61 out of 128 seats, according to projections by polling company Consulta Mitofsky based on the preliminary tally.
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