Mexico: victory of president-elect Peña Nieto challenged in court

Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who lost Mexico's July 1 presidential election, officially challenged the results last night. He accuses the victorious party of buying votes.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP
Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (c.), who lost Mexico's July 1 presidential election, attends a news conference in Mexico City, Thursday, July 12. Lopez Obrador says he will ask an electoral court to invalidate the results of the election, charging there was vote buying and campaign overspending by the winner of official vote counts.

The leftist candidate in Mexico's presidential election has formally filed a challenge to the July 1 presidential race – and most Mexicans won't be happy about it, at least according to a new poll out in the daily Reforma.

Yet the same poll shows that a significant portion of Mexicans surveyed believe the race was dirty, either somewhat or very much so.

The challenge filed just before a midnight deadline Thursday by leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who also contested the 2006 presidential race after he lost that election, could hurt the image of his Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), especially among those who say the candidate cannot accept democratic defeat. Yet amid deep skepticism over the functionality of democracy, his pushback against the the win of Enrique Peña Nieto, who hails from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is creating a “watchdog” culture that could ultimately help Mexicans regain more faith in their democracy as the PRI, which once ruled Mexico for 71 years straight with a tainted democratic record, comes back into power.

The court has until Sept. 6 to resolve the complaint, and the results are unlikely to be overturned, as some of Mr. Lopez Obrador's central accusations – such as the PRI was buying votes on election day – are so hard to prove.

Peña Nieto was poised to win the race by a landslide, but in the end the margin of victory was much smaller than expected. Lopez Obrador, who lost the race by about 6 percentage points, says that the PRI used illicit funds to buy votes and usher Mr. Peña Nieto into power. One particular scandal has broken out over gift cards for a supermarket chain in Mexico City allegedly handed out by the PRI in exchange for votes. The left has also said that the television industry exhibited mass bias in their favorable coverage of Peña Nieto leading into the race. Lopez Obrador already demanded a recount directly following the announcement of election results, which Mexico's electoral institute carried out, deeming Peña Nieto's win valid.

And yet Lopez Obrador has forged forward in disputing the race.

In a poll published in Thursday's edition of Mexico's leading newspaper, two-thirds of Mexicans said that Lopez Obrador should accept the results of the race. Among his followers, the number nof those who feel he should accept the results is much smaller, but it's still a majority, at 56 percent.

Lopez Obrador has been deemed the ultimate “sore loser” by his foes. When he lost the race in 2006 by a razor-thin margin, he declared fraud and shut down parts of downtown Mexico City with a six-week street protest.

Yet the Reforma poll also captures long-held skepticism about politics and suspicions that dirty tricks still persist: 40 percent in the same poll say the race was either somewhat or very tainted.

The mixed sentiments reflected in the Reforma poll – 40 percent say the race may have been unfair, yet 76 percent want the results to remain standing – can be interpreted in many ways. Do Mexicans trust their democracy or not? Are politics clean? Do systems work? The answers are both yes and no.

But for those who feared that a return of the PRI would mean a return to the past, Lopez Obrador and others questioning Peña Nieto's mandate could be playing an important “preventive” role. The PRI has long maintained it represents a new generation of leaders committed to democracy. Many Mexicans said they would have to wait to see how the PRI rules in power to judge if that's really true or not. But the vote-buying allegations, street protests, and now Lopez Obrador's lawsuit could mean that the test is already under way.

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