Latin America & Caribbean

No early end to Mexico's election stand-off

Demonstrators protest outside an office of the Federal Electoral Institute in Mexico City July 3, 2012
Image caption People angry at the initial results have been making their feelings known

As the glitter and confetti were still showering the activists at the headquarters of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) on Sunday, a hush suddenly came over the crowd.

They had been making a big noise for several hours now, as their candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, appeared to have won the presidential election based on the preliminary results. He had already been described as "the president-elect" by the outgoing leader, Felipe Calderon.

But in mid-celebration, the music was interrupted and the crowd silenced to listen to the message of the nearest challenger, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Everyone in the audience, and in the press centre, seemed to be thinking one thing: Will AMLO, as he is known here, accept the result?

Two days later, it has become very clear that he won't. He began by saying he would wait until every vote was counted before admitting defeat. By Tuesday, he was calling for a complete recount.

Fraud fears

A recount is a huge undertaking in Mexico. Tens of millions of votes were cast on Sunday in more than 143,000 polling stations.

Image caption Mr Lopez Obrador missed out on victory in 2006 by a fraction

But Mr Lopez Obrador is adamant that they should all be counted again.

"The election was a national disgrace," the former mayor of Mexico City told reporters. "It was a disgrace because of the way the sponsors of the PRI and their candidate have behaved."

It was seemingly a reference to the country's main media outlet, Televisa - as well as other big business interests in Mexico - which he accuses of giving open support to Mr Pena Nieto's campaign.

Other irregularities he registered with the electoral authorities are arguably more serious. They include the accusation that the PRI bought votes in certain municipalities.

The day after the election, videos began to emerge on YouTube purporting to show members of the public admitting they had received supermarket store cards with 500 pesos ($37.50) of credit in exchange for voting for the PRI.

Similarly, he said the party had overspent their allotted campaign funds, in breach of electoral law.

But hard evidence of the vote-buying or ballot-box stuffing has not yet been made public by Mr Lopez Obrador's team. Suffice it to say, the accusations are dismissed as sour grapes and Mr Lopez Obrador as a sore loser by the PRI.

For those who follow Mexican politics, these events may sound familiar. In 2006, Mr Lopez Obrador missed out on the presidency by little over half a percentage point. His supporters took to the streets of Mexico City in their tens of thousands and brought the capital to a standstill.

Many people had hoped to avoid a repeat of such gridlock - both in the streets and politically - and the candidates signed a "civility pact" before the vote promising to respect the result.

Accepting defeat

Surely though, if the former mayor has proof of wrong-doing, he should continue his legal fight until the last?

Image caption Enrique Pena Nieto has been setting out his priorities

"I think to do so would be pretty damaging to the left," says Andres Lajous, a political analyst for Nexus magazine and self-confessed AMLO supporter. "The left in the last few years has built a coalition and it's quite heterogeneous."

There is more at play, he says, than Mr Lopez Obrador's personal ambitions.

"There are other leaderships in the party, which are not based on Lopez Obrador, that don't necessarily feel they have lost everything. Indeed they actually won some things in Congress and the state elections."

Mr Lajous points out that a source of comfort for many of AMLO's supporters after the election was that the PRI had only taken around a third of the seats in congress.

That suggests Mr Pena Nieto will have to be much more pragmatic than previous PRI leaders if he wants to make certain constitutional changes he has proposed.

In the meantime, the man who the authorities say has won the election is trying to press on regardless. Now the vote is over, and the domestic audience is less important, Mr Pena Nieto's team have been pushing his international credentials.

The day after the vote he called a news conference in which he said he had been congratulated by many international leaders, including President Barack Obama and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

He also looked to reassure an international audience that the PRI is no longer mired in the corruption and authoritarianism of the past.

"To those concerned about a return to old ways, fear not," he wrote in the New York Times this week.

"At 45, I am part of a generation of PRI politicians committed to democracy. I reject the practices of the past, in the same way I seek to move forward from the political gridlock of the present."

The article was signed off "Enrique Pena Nieto is the president-elect of Mexico".

At least for now, millions of AMLO supporters would beg to differ.

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