The Irish Times view on the Mexican election: a key vote in a country where democracy is under threat

Mexico is a country under threat and much is at stake in this local and national election where more than 20,000 local and 600 federal posts are up for grabs

At the first political rally of her campaign on April 1st, Gisela Gaytan, a 37-year-old lawyer, was gunned down. She was the 36th candidate to die since last summer in Mexico’s deadly election campaign. In her state, Guanajuato, police officers are now protecting 255 local candidates.

Since her killing at least eight more candidates for this Sunday’s elections have been assassinated around the country. Fourteen relatives of candidates have also been killed, almost certainly by the drug cartels who are extending their reign of terror to corrupt local government officials, arms trafficking, money laundering, extortion rackets, migrant trafficking and food production.

Estimates put their control at over one third of the country. And there have been mass killings too. In Guanajuato eleven died in a mass shooting at a Christmas party. In Chiapas state, previously largely unaffected, gunmen this month killed a mayoral candidate and seven others.

And the murder figures do not include the record number of people reported as missing, almost 115,000 by last year, 43,000 of whom disappeared during the current presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

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Mexico is a country under threat, its democracy under pressure like never before in this local and national election where more than 20,000 local and 600 federal posts are up for grabs.

Lopez Obrador has spoken of combating the cartels with “hugs, not bullets,” addressing the poverty that drives young people into gangs rather than aggressively countering the cartels on the streets. Critics say this is to downplay the problem, which has worsened dramatically during his presidency. The president, however, retains a strong approval rating at 65 per cent and while he cannot stand again under electoral rules hopes to hand over to party colleague Claudia Sheinbaum.

The cartels are becoming de facto rulers of towns across Mexico. Dozens have pulled out of races while many parties simply abandon towns where they are unable to find candidates. Democracy is at stake as Mexico votes this Sunday.