Mexico‘s highest election court has voted to dismiss legal challenges to the results of the 1 July presidential election by the second-placed candidate.
The unanimous ruling by the seven-member electoral tribunal paves the way for the Institutional Revolutionary party to return to power after it lost the presidency for the first time in 71 years in elections in 2000.
The party, known as the PRI, won the presidential vote with a 6.6-point advantage for its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. But leftwing rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador challenged the results, alleging Peña Nieto engaged in widespread vote-buying and campaign spending excesses.
Before the vote in their night-time session, all of the justices said they did not think supporters of López Obrador had submitted convincing evidence of the alleged abuses.
“Mexico has a president elected by the people, in the person of Enrique Peña Nieto,” said Justice Salvador Nava.
Justice Flavio Galvan dismissed evidence submitted by the leftist coalition regarding alleged abuses by Peña Nieto’s campaign as “vague, generic, imprecise”. The evidence included gift cards, household goods and even farm animals purportedly given out to voters by the PRI.
Outside the courthouse, demonstrators who believe Peña Nieto received an unfair advantage from media outlets, pollsters and campaign donors reacted with outrage.
A crowd of about 200 protesters chanted “No to imposition” and “Defend democracy”, and some grabbed steel security barriers that ring the courthouse and began banging them against the building’s gates. One youth group has called for a “funeral march for democracy” on Friday.
Ricardo Monreal, López Obrador’s campaign manager, said the justices were “acting like a gang of ruffians”.
The justices said some of the evidence submitted was hearsay or unclear. For example, they said the evidence included gifts allegedly given out by Peña Nieto’s party, the PRI, without proof that was where they came from or that the gifts had been given to influence votes.
Monreal complained that the justice wanted his coalition “to supply not just the evidence, but the victims and criminals” as well.
The court appeared to have done little if any of its own investigation into the accusations, which centred on hundreds and possibly thousands of pre-paid gift cards that shoppers at a Mexican grocery store chain said they were given by Peña Nieto’s party before the election.
The Associated Press interviewed about half a dozen people among shoppers who mobbed one Soriana store two days after the elections to redeem the cards; almost all said PRI supporters had given them the cards, expecting they would vote for the party. The court did not apparently interview any card recipients. Galvan said only that “there is no proof of vote-buying”.
“It has not been demonstrated that they [the cards] were given to citizens, or if that occurred, that it was done on condition they vote for a given candidate,” Galvan said.
Justice Pedro Penagos agreed, saying: “Even though the existence of the Soriana cards is proven … it has not been proven they were handed out, nor that they were in exchange for votes for Enrique Peña Nieto.”
The court’s ruling also came as electoral authorities were still investigating whether Peña Nieto’s campaign had exceeded campaign spending limits. To outsiders it appeared much better funded than those of his rivals.
The justices ruled those investigations may continue but would not be grounds for overturning the vote.
The ruling by the full court would be the final step before what is widely expected to be the tribunal’s confirmation of Peña Nieto’s victory.
According to the official count, Peña Nieto won 38% of the votes, followed by López Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution party at about 31%.
The PRI has denied wrongdoing. A confirmation of its victory would end a 12-year PRI absence from Mexico’s highest office, which it held without interruption from 1929 to 2000