With campaigning finished as Mexico’s midterm elections approach, many hope the bloodshed is over in what experts have described as one of the bloodiest election seasons in recent history.
According to Etellekt, a security consultancy firm, at least 89 politicians, including 35 candidates, have been killed in more than 200 days of campaigning. Separately, the firm registered 782 attacks against politicians and candidates, ranging from verbal threats and intimidation to beatings, property damage, kidnappings, attacks on family members and abuse of authority.
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Of these, 75 percent were against opposition politicians and candidates of the governments where the offences were committed. Seventy-five percent of the politicians that were killed were also members of opposition parties.
“What will mark this election is the violence that arose mainly against opponents of state governments or the municipalities,” Etellekt Director Ruben Salazar told Al Jazeera.
“It must also be said that 44 percent of the 89 fatalities were part of the opposition coalition against the federal government. In sum, what we are witnessing here is political violence, where being part of the opposition implies [you will be] at greater risk in this country.”
Trend of violence
The elections on June 6, considered the largest in the country’s history, will determine 15 of the 32 state governorships, a new lower house of Congress and thousands of mayoral and local legislator posts – more than 20,000 positions in all, according to Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE). Nearly 95 million people are eligible to vote.
Mexican President Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador, known as AMLO, will not be on the ballot, but his left-wing Morena Party and its allies are hoping to hold onto a two-thirds majority in the Chamber of Deputies to help the president push through policies in the final three years of his term.
“These crimes are much more than just a number,” Lorenzo Cordova Councilor, president of the INE, said last week about the rise in violence. “These were people that decided to participate in politics using the democratic way … We condemn the violence and the barbarism.”
However, this is not the first time Mexico has witnessed attacks during an election campaign.
Indicador de Violencia Política @etellekt_ Actualización: Con el asesinato de Cipriano Villanueva, candidato a regidor por Chiapas Unido, en #Acapetahua, Chiapas, son 89 los políticos asesinados en #Elecciones2021MX (35 de ellos eran aspirantes y candidatos a puestos electivos). pic.twitter.com/5r9kjrrvqO
— Etellekt (@etellekt_) May 28, 2021
Translation: Political Violence Indicator @etellekt_Update: With the assassination of Cipriano Villanueva, candidate for councillor for … Chiapas, there are 89 politicians assassinated in #MexicanElections2021 (35 of them were hopefuls and candidates for elective positions).
During the 2018 federal election, Etellekt reported a total of 774 acts of violence and 152 political killings. In 2015, during the last midterm vote, the country also registered 61 political assassinations over nine months, according to Etellekt.
“In Mexico, since the last three federal elections, we’ve seen an increase in political violence,” said Gerardo Rodriguez, director of the department of international relations and political science at the University of the Americas Puebla.
“We normally see violence before election day, then there is a pause during the elections, and after the results are announced, we see a rise again,” he said.
Yet, despite the statistics, voters say they are not intimidated. “By exercising our right to vote, it is the best way in which we can also protect ourselves,” said Andrea Aguila, an industrial engineer in the State of Mexico, which surrounds the capital Mexico City.
“We cannot live in a country with fear and let both violence or organised crime take away our rights. Voting is our right and exercising it is the way to combat this violence,” she told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador has blamed the rise in violence on the work of organised criminal gangs, accusing them of trying to prevent people from voting. “I want to tell the people that we should not be afraid,” AMLO said during a recent conference.
In such a scenario, “there is abstention and the mafia dominates the elections, whether it’s the organised crime, as it is called, or white-collar crime; then the best thing is to vote, nobody should be left without participating”, he said.
Rodriguez also blamed the violence on organised crime, saying these groups “seek to influence local politics at the municipal and state level to benefit from pacts of criminal political immunity, which allows them to continue operating under the protection of local governments”.
This also makes the work of political candidates increasingly difficult. “[In current times] it is more dangerous to be a politician in election times than to be a journalist in times of war,” Rodriguez said.
The International Crisis Group think-tank estimates that about 450 criminal groups operate in Mexico, but crimes are rarely resolved. Based on data analysed (PDF) by local nonprofit Impunidad Cero, from October 2017 to September 2018 only 1.3 percent of crimes ended with prosecutors filing charges and bringing the accused before a judge.
“The problem is structural in Mexico,” Rodriguez explained.
“The murders are not investigated as they should be, there are not enough experts, there is not enough capacity in the state public ministries or enough judges to lead these investigations. So we are facing that structural impunity that facilitates, that promotes, this political violence.”