Elections in Mexico: Over 200 people including 30 candidates killed in the deadliest campaign ahead of June 2 polls, dozens of others face threats and violence

From left: Mexican presidential frontrunners Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez at campaign events. (Source: Medios y Media, Uri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images)

A mayoral candidate has been shot dead at a campaign rally in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state, the latest in a string of attacks ahead of the 2nd June elections. On 29th May, Alfredo Cabrera was killed in the town of Coyuca de Benitez. An individual was seen approaching him at the campaign event and shooting him multiple times at close range in a video that was released by the local media. Two other candidates were shot the day before the latest attack. The final campaign rallies of the front-runners in Mexico’s presidential race were marred by widespread violence.

Alfredo Cabrera (Source: Billie Parker Noticias)

As per reports, at least 30 candidates contesting the elections have been killed since September 2023, although the official sources put the number at 22.

At least sixteen people have died as a result of attacks on mayoral candidates and their entourages in Chiapas this month. Among them were Lucero Esmeralda López Maza, a 28-year-old who was running for mayor of the town of La Concordia, and her sister. According to officials, three more mayoral candidates from municipalities throughout Chiapas suffered injuries in three separate attacks. On 12th May, in the village of Chicomuselo, some 20 miles from the Guatemalan border, 11 people—mostly members of one family—were massacred.

Nine people lost their lives in two attacks against mayoral candidates in the southern state of Chiapas just last week. Both of the contenders made it through. Six individuals, including Lucero Lopez, a mayoral candidate, and a kid, were slain in an ambush that occurred earlier this month following a campaign event in the nearby municipality of La Concordia. A mayoral candidate was fatally shot last month, shortly after she started her campaign.

Relatives of mayoral candidate Bertha Gisela Gaytán mourn during her funeral in Celaya, Mexico, on 3rd April. (Source: Mario Armas/Getty Images)

With around 200 public employees, lawmakers, and candidates killed so far in this campaign, it has been the most brutal election in the country’s history. As organized crime groups compete for power in government, hundreds more have left or requested protection, further undermining Mexican democracy. At least thirty mayoral candidates have been murdered since September 2023 as the country gears up to vote as criminal gangs seek expanded control in states where cartels already wreak havoc.

Over 20,000 positions are up for grabs in the poll and a high-profile race that will most likely see Mexico elect its first female president, the nation’s largest vote ever has resulted in one of the most dangerous election cycles in recent memory. The citizens also expressed that they are most concerned about public safety.

The Latin American nation is going to decide between Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator for the major centre-right party or Claudia Sheinbaum, a close associate of left-wing incumbent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The front-runner, Sheinbaum, declared to the assembled supporters in Zócalo Square, the heart of Mexico City, that the country has “changed profoundly for the better” since President Obrador was elected in 2018 while Gálvez has slammed President Obrador for the nation’s high level of organized crime.

Violence has impacted politicians from all political parties, but it has particularly harmed municipal officials and candidates. It is the state’s least protected stratum as well as the place where criminal organizations look to make agreements with law enforcement to bolster their hold on the surrounding area and its companies. After accounting for threats, kidnappings, disappearances and other acts of intimidation against not only candidates but also current and former public officials and “collateral” victims like family members, the Mexican consulting firm Integralia has declared that the current campaign season is the bloodiest in recent Mexican history.

A member of the Mexican National Guard stands at the perimeter of a crime scene where a passenger was shot dead inside a bus in Celaya, Mexico, in February. (Source: Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

As of 1st May, Integralia had reported 560 victims of political violence, up from 389 during the 2017–18 campaign and 299 during the 2020–21 midterm elections. As of a 28th May revised report, it listed 316 attacks or threats against candidates. Similar to previous election cycles, this one too has not seen violence directed towards well-known contenders for high-profile positions like governorships or the presidency, however, those vying for city government positions are caught in the crossfire.

Gangs try to fund their own candidates and then threaten or even kill those who oppose them. Criminals striving for control over smuggling routes, extortion targets, municipal finances, and other opportunities in their territory, or plazas, might be aided by corrupt police officers and other incentives from crooked mayors. Local politicians are susceptible to pressure from cartels more so than governors and other senior legislators.

One of the largest industrial cities in the state of Guanajuato, Celaya has a population of 500,000 and is the target of conflict between several factions. About one homicide has occurred in Celaya for every thousand residents annually since 2020. It is the most dangerous city in Mexico to work as a police officer as at least 34 cops have died there in the last three years.

When it comes to illegal attempts to influence elections and infiltrate the state, attacks on politicians are merely “the tip of the iceberg.” Violence affects a larger spectrum of actors and goes beyond the campaign trail. Attacks of this nature have increased over the past several years, remaining unaddressed by any political party. It is increasingly difficult to maintain that free and fair elections are being held in various parts of Mexico due to the stronghold that crime has established there.

Lessons from Indian democracy

The largest election festival in the world, held in India every five years, contrasts sharply with Mexico’s historically deadly elections. More than 96.88 crore voters nationwide registered to vote in the general election of 2024. “The conduct of our election, our election management is such that it can be a learning process for other democracies. Big universities of the world should carry out a case study on the Indian elections. This year, almost 64 countries in the world are going to the polls. There should be a comparison of elections between India and other countries. This year’s festival of democracy is not only in India but around the world,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated after casting his vote in Gujarat.

The world’s largest elections are effectively organized and concluded by a nation that is more diverse than any other place on Earth. On the other hand, the countries which can’t even fathom handling such challenges and diversity find it difficult to hold elections without a violent cloud hanging over them. This demonstrates not only the effectiveness of India’s electoral system but also the people’s confidence and faith in the country’s democracy.

OpIndia Staff: Staff reporter at OpIndia