Culiacan, Mexico - Here in the heartland of Mexico's narcotics industry, it's hardly surprising that security and the economy dominate the concerns of voters in the lead-up to the presidential vote on July 1. Illegal narcotics represent about 18 per cent of the state's GDP, according to calculations by Guillermo Ibarra Escobar, dean of international relations and public policy at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa.
Born in the rugged Sierra Madre in the state's east, the Sinaloa cartel is considered the western hemisphere's most established and wealthy drug trafficking organisation. Its leader, Joaquín El Chapo ["shorty"] Guzmán, presiding over a multi-billion dollar empire, was deemed one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine.
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The election pits front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto from the Institutional Revolutionary party, Mexico's former ruling dynasty, against populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Josefina Vazquez Mota from the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN).
Currently, at the state level, Sinaloa is governed by an odd coalition of the PAN and PRD.
Culiacan, the state capital, seems reasonably peaceful, although the situation in rural areas in the state's north, in particular, has become violent as of late. The Zetas, arguably Mexico's most violent cartel, are battling the Sinaloa gang on their home turf, creating displacement and fear.
With a population of 2.7 million, the state averaged about four murders a day for the first four months of this year. Still, despite the region's reputation as a trafficking hub, job prospects seem to top the list of concerns for local residents.
While some topics, including links between drug gangs and politicians and the actions of specific criminals are not freely discussed, most residents of Culiacan who spoke to Al Jazeera were happy to share their thoughts on the vote and the issues facing their state.
|Amado Riveria Mendez, professor of information technology, Universidad de Occidente
"The biggest priority right now is security. And job creation. I have to be sensible when it comes to going out. We know something might happen, but you can't always be scared or psychotic.
"When it comes to security, maybe the PRI [the Institutional Revolutionary Party - who are leading the polls] has a better policy. Bringing [General Oscar] Naranjo from Colombia [who helped lead that country's fight against cartels] is a good idea. He delivered. He destroyed the Cali and Medellin cartels [the most powerful trafficking organisations in the hemisphere prior to the rise of Mexico’s gangs]. That could be a good position."
"The biggest problem facing this society is the lack of human values. People don't have work and there is corruption … The police are not following the law.
"[Andres Manuel] Lopez Obrador [from the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution] is best suited to handle this.
"Have you heard of the families assassinated in the north of this state? There are ghost towns. People can pull you out of your house and kill you and no one can do anything. I have a brother who disappeared. He is one of the statistics. I blame the [National Action Party] PAN. This is why I am demanding change. He disappeared four years ago. He was kidnapped and they [a criminal gang] demanded a ransom of three million pesos. We didn't have the money, so we never heard from him again. I filed a report with the police but they didn’t do anything.
"This was at the time when the Zetas arrived. It was when the Zetas were spreading … There needs to be a change. We live in a state of terror. Before 2008, they [drug dealers] used to respect civil society. Now they don’t care …. we don't know whether to trust the police or the criminals. You might get lost and no one will look for you. In the end, you're just a statistic."
|Espernza Machado Felix, street cleaner
"The most important issue is the economy - so the children can live better. I have five children. Four of them are studying. Nothing has changed for better under the PAN. When the PRI was in government, there was more work and opportunities.
"There is a lot of insecurity. There are assaults and violations now. The security was better under the PRI."
|Jesus Carlos Ocampo, employee of a family restaurant
"Employment is the biggest issue for me. And education. There needs to be more work opportunities and higher salaries. I think the PRI is best for this. They will give [job creation] the most focus. They are preoccupied with this.
"I don't think there is a lot of opportunity for change."
|Vicente Lindoro Carnicero, butcher
"Security is the biggest preoccupation. There is not security here. We need more honesty in the police. There is too much corruption in the government and police.
"Well, I think the PAN and [its leader Josefina Vazquez] Mota are the best to clean up corruption. She is a woman and she has more vision."
|Pedro Antonio Lunda Medina, banker
"We need a real change for all of Mexico. We need more work. Many people are unemployed. For me in particular, I think Lopez Obrador is the best option.
"We have had the PRI and the PAN for a lot of time. We need more international trade. I consider him [Obrador] as a person who has been making good proposals for many years."
Follow Chris Arsenault on Twitter: @AJEchris
Source: Al Jazeera