Mexico: court rules for PRI in contested Tabasco election

From La Jornada, Dec. 28 via Chiapas95:

The nation’s top electoral court ruled Wednesday that irregularities preceding the Oct. 15 gubernatorial election in Tabasco were not serious enough to affect the outcome.

The unanimous decision cleared the way for Andres Granier Melo, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to take the oath of office on Jan. 1 as governor of the southern Gulf state, home to two of this year’s three major presidential candidates.

Granier’s victory by 10 percentage points was challenged by Cesar Raul Ojeda Zubieta, the runner-up from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Ojeda’s charges included illegal interference in the campaign by religious authorities, as well as by state business organizations and a state transportation undersecretary.

In its ruling Wednesday, the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) acknowledged some irregularities in the campaign, including involvement by the state official. But the court’s magistrates said the intrusion was not grounds to annul the vote.

The court further ruled that there was no direct interference by Church officials, or enough proof of illegal involvement in the campaign by business leaders. The magistrates also said that PRD charges of subliminal advertising by the PRI were “subjective.”

The votes from seven polling stations were tossed out because of irregularities on election day, with a minimal effect on the total vote count. After adjustments, the final figures show Granier with 436,836 votes and Ojeda with 355,669 votes. Candidates from the National Action Party (PAN), which has a minor presence in the state and did not campaign hard, and small parties brought the total to 843,457.

The Oct. 15 Tabasco gubernatorial election was seen by some observers as a referendum on Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s political clout, taking place in his home state less than six weeks after the TEPJF shot down his challenges of the July 2 presidential election. Other political experts saw the vote as a purely local affair, but Lopez Obrador did campaign for Ojeda Zubieta in Tabasco.

The final stretch of the campaign was marred by the arrest and alleged beating of 25 PRD members and get-out-the-vote volunteers, eight of them just hours before the vote took place. The arrests were made by state police under the jurisdiction of outgoing Gov. Manuel Andrade, a member of the PRI.

PRD president Leonel Cota was outraged at the arrests, considering them the final blow in a coordinated effort to keep the governorship in PRI hands. But the 10-point margin of victory took the wind out of the protest’s sails, and the TEPJF’s ruling Wednesday ended it.

The defeat marks the third time Ojeda has lost a bid to become governor of Tabasco. Andrade edged him in October of 2000, but the tribunal annulled the vote, citing irregularities.

In the August 2001 rematch, Andrade beat Ojeda by a slightly larger margin than the first time.

The PRI’s Roberto Madrazo, who finished a distant third in the 2006 presidential vote, beat Lopez Obrador in the controversial 1994 Tabasco vote. Evidence of overspending by the Madrazo campaign was so strong that then-newly elected President Ernesto Zedillo asked him to step down.

Madrazo refused and served his full term.

See our last posts on Mexico, the struggle in Tabasco, and the national electoral dispute.