Vote-buying allegations hit Mexico election



Zeenews Bureau

Mexico City: Accusations of widespread vote-buying have hit Mexico’s Presidential Elections held over the weekend.

The allegations surfaced as thousands of Mexicans sought to redeem pre-paid gift cards which they say were given to them previously by the party that won the Presidency.

Most of those who rushed to the stores on Tuesday were not happy – some didn't get as much as promised; others’ cards weren't working.

Under Mexican election law, giving voters gifts is not a crime unless the gift is conditioned on a certain vote or meant to influence a vote, reports a news agency.

However, the cost of such gifts must be reported, and cannot exceed campaign spending limits. Violations are usually punished with fines, but generally aren't considered grounds for annulling an election.

Some of the people lined up to use gift cards said they got them for supporting the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose Enrique Pena Nieto won Sunday's Presidential Election, according to the preliminary official vote count. Some wore red T-shirts and baseball caps or carried tote bags with Pena Nieto's name printed in white.

Pena Nieto's campaign and the PRI press office said they had no immediate comment. In the final days of the campaign before Sunday's vote, PRI officials denied allegations that the party had distributed pre-paid cash cards from a local bank.

Before the election, the PRI accused the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, whose candidate ran third in the election, of passing out groceries during the campaign, and claimed the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, had gotten illegal campaign financing. None of those allegations have been proven.

On the Friday before the vote, the PRD issued a statement accompanied by photos of dozens of the Soriana gift cards, saying they had been distributed by a PRI-affiliated union, and it filed a complaint to electoral authorities. The party's Presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, came in second.

Allegations of vote-buying were not limited to Mexico City, with complaints cropping up in several battleground states.

On Tuesday, Alfredo Figueroa, a council member of the oversight agency known as the Federal Electoral Institute, said authorities were investigating complaints about the Soriana gift cards. Members of the institute have said they were aware of attempts to engage in vote buying.

Figueroa also said that irregularities in vote tallies might eventually lead to the opening and re-counting of votes from as many as 50,000 polling stations, about a third of the 143,000 involved in Sunday's vote.

Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that his team had detected irregularities at 113,855 polling places, and called for a total recount.

"This is a scandal ... They bought millions of votes," Lopez Obrador said at a news conference, referring to the PRI. "Clearly, they far exceeded campaign spending limits ... this is a national embarrassment."

Lopez Obrador has refused to accept the preliminary vote tallies, saying the election campaign was marred by overspending and favorable treatment for Pena Nieto by Mexico's semi-monopolized television industry.

(With Agency inputs)