By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The official vote count in Mexico's presidential election concluded Friday with results showing a 6.62-percent victory for Enrique Pena Nieto, the presidential candidate seeking to return the former autocratic ruling party to power after a 12-year hiatus.
The count by the country's electoral authority, which included a ballot-by-ballot recount at more than half of polling places, showed Pena Nieto getting 38.21 percent of votes, while his closest rival, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, got 31.59 percent.
Josefina Vazquez Mota of the conservative National Action Party got 25.41 percent of votes cast in Sunday's elections, and the small New Alliance Party got 2.29 percent, barely passing the two-percent barrier needed to preserve the party's place on future ballots. Almost 2.5 percent of ballots where voided; while some voters in Mexico void their ballots as a form of protest, some also simply make mistakes in marking them.
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.
The results, showing an advantage of roughly 3.33 million votes for Pena Nieto out of roughly 50.3 million valid ballots, will almost certainly become the target of legal challenges by Lopez Obrador. He alleges that 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 PRI supporters before 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.
While Vazquez Mota is not challenging the results, she also said Thursday that campaign spending violations had marred the vote.
"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 provide a better estimate of votes affected in the coming days.