By Eric L. Olson and Gabriella Ippolito
On July 1st 2012 Mexicans went to the polls in record numbers to elect a new President, 128 Senators, 500 congressional representatives (Deputies) six governors and the Mayor of Mexico City. According to the official results certified by Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) received the most votes for president with 38.2%, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD/PT) with 31.6%, Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN) with 25.4%, and Gabriel Quadri (PANAL) with 2.29%.
But despite these results, the story is not over yet. Representatives from all three parties have filed complaints with Mexico’s Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) alleging that campaign laws were violated. That means that despite receiving numerous congratulatory calls from foreign heads of state (including President Obama), and being received by current president Felipe Calderón at the presidential office at Los Pinos to discuss the transition, Enrique Peña Nieto cannot be considered Mexico’s president-elect until the TEPJF rules on the various allegations.
The PRD and the PAN jointly accused to PRI of the following:
- Use of illicit funds, specifically $8.2 million worth of pre-paid (Monex) debit cards to be distributed to buy votes for Pena Nieto
- Over-spending during the campaign
- That the major TV stations in Mexico, Televisa and TV Azteca, provided more, and more favorable, coverage to Pena Nieto
The PRD has called for results in 25% of the polling stations to be annulled because of fraud, and submitted their evidence to the IFE on July 17th. After reviewing the evidence the IFE stated that it did not appear that many of the pieces of evidence had probative value but they transferred the evidence to the TEPJF who will make a final determination. The TEPJF has said that they will rule by August 31st. 
The PRI has denied the charges stating that they had no relation with Banco Monex and said that they did purchase pre-paid debit cards, but that these were for regular campaign expenses. In addition, Televisa denied granting favorable coverage to Enrique Peña Nieto when they testified before the TEPJF. Furthermore, the PRI has more recently leveled its own charges against the PRD for violating campaign finance laws. Specifically, the PRI alleges that the PRD received funding from parallel grassroots organizations and state and municipal governments to support the party’s campaign.
The question on the minds of many is whether the process of contesting the election will weaken Mexico’s electoral institutions and politically undermine the ultimate winner of these elections. While those risks are real, on balance, the process will likely help strengthen Mexican democracy as long as the electoral institutions, including most specifically the electoral tribunal, do due diligence and make their ruling in an open and transparent manner that increases public confidence in the process. Most Mexicans acknowledge that manipulation of the electoral system occurs to a greater or lesser extent. What better way to strengthen public confidence in elections and contribute to democratic strengthening than to air out those concerns in a public manner before a tribunal that will hopefully reach a conclusion based on the evidence. If done in this manner it will then fall to the parties to decide whether they will abide by the rules of the game and the outcomes of the process, or seek to further challenge the results through civil disobedience. For now, the process is a healthy one.