MEXICO CITY – Mexico's highest election court voted Thursday to dismiss legal challenges mounted by the second-place leftist candidate seeking to overturn the results of the July 1 presidential election.
The unanimous ruling by the seven-member Federal Electoral Tribunal paves the way for the old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party to return to power, after it lost the presidency for the first time in 71 years in 2000 elections.
The party, known as the PRI, won the presidential vote with a 6.6-point advantage for its candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto. But leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who finished second, challenged the results, alleging Pena Nieto engaged in widespread vote-buying and campaign spending excesses
Before the vote in their nighttime session, all of the justices said they did not think supporters of Lopez Obrador had submitted convincing evidence of the alleged abuses.
"Mexico has a president elected by the people, in the person of Enrique Pena Nieto," said Justice Salvador Nava.
Justice Flavio Galvan dismissed evidence submitted by the leftist coalition regarding purported abuses by Pena Nieto's campaign as "vague, generic, imprecise." The evidence included gift cards, household goods and even farm animals purportedly given out to voters by the PRI.
Outside the courthouse, demonstrators who believe Pena Nieto got an unfair advantage from media outlets, pollsters and campaign donors reacted with outrage.
About 200 demonstrators chanted "No to imposition" and "Defend democracy," and some grabbed steel security barriers that ring the courthouse and began banging them against the building's gates. One youth group called for a "funeral march for democracy" on Friday.
Ricardo Monreal, Lopez Obrador's campaign manager, said the justices "are acting like a gang of ruffians."
The justices said some of the evidence submitted was hearsay, or unclear. For example, they said the evidence included gifts allegedly given out by Pena Nieto's party, the PRI, without proof that was where they came from or that the gifts had been given to influence votes.
Monreal complained that the justice wanted his coalition "to supply not just the evidence, but the victims and criminals" as well.
The court appeared to have done little if any of its own investigation of the accusations, which centered on hundreds and possibly thousands of pre-paid gift cards that shoppers at a Mexican grocery store chain said they were given by Pena Nieto's party before the election.
The Associated Press interviewed about a half dozen people among shoppers who mobbed one Soriana store two days after the elections to redeem the cards; almost all said PRI supporters had given them the cards, expecting they would vote for the party.
The court did not apparently interview any card recipients. Galvan said only that "there is no proof of vote-buying."
"It has not been demonstrated that they (the cards) were given to citizens, or if that occurred, that it was done on condition they vote for a given candidate," Galvan said.
Justice Pedro Penagos agreed, saying: "Even though the existence of the Soriana cards is proven ... it has not been proven they were handed out, nor that they were in exchange for votes for Enrique Pena Nieto."
The court's ruling also came as electoral authorities are still investigating whether Pena Nieto's campaign had exceeded campaign spending limits. To outsiders, it appeared much better funded than his rivals'.
The justices said those investigations can continue, but wouldn't be grounds for overturning the vote.
The ruling by the full court, expected later Thursday, would be the final step before what is widely expected to be the tribunal's confirmation of Pena Nieto's victory.
According to the official count, Pena Nieto won 38 percent of the votes, followed by Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party at about 31 percent.
The PRI has denied wrongdoing. A confirmation of its victory would end a 12-year PRI absence from Mexico's highest office, which it held without interruption from 1929 to 2000.