On June 6th, Mexico will elect 500 lawmakers, 15 governors, and more than 20,000 local officials in a historic midterm election. Over the last six months, violence has plagued many of the politicians and civil servants involved. According to the risk analysis consulting firm Etellekt, there were 151 acts of political violence between September 2020 and February 16th, including 46 murders. The director of Etellekt, Ruben Salazar, stated that in March, one politician was assassinated each day. If this death toll continues, the upcoming midterms will be the most violent election since the Mexican Revolution.
Security Minister Rosa Rodríguez recently stated at a press conference that the crimes are intended to influence the upcoming election, especially at a local level. She explained that politically driven crimes impact municipal positions most. Minister Rodríguez promised that protection would be provided to candidates that request it and that security will be improved where political violence is most prevalent. Unfortunately, providing candidates with heightened protection will not solve the problem of political violence. The problem is multi-layered, with roots in party commitment.
Why do politicians resort to violence? The short answer is that Mexico’s current political environment is conducive to political crime, especially at the state and local level. According to Salazar, State prosecutors who investigate political violence are willing to overlook violence when committed by the prosecutor’s party. This party devotion and consequent decision to overlook violence when committed by people of similar political ideals provides impunity for candidates that represent their state prosecutor’s party. It doesn’t help that governors choose state prosecutors and are often inclined to elect prosecutors within the governor’s party.
So, why has this election season seen a 4.1% increase in violence when compared to the 2018 election according to Etellekt’s report? The reasons are two-fold. Firstly, there is heightened political uncertainty. This insecurity is a result of citizens moving between political parties, oppositional party coalitions, and widespread discontent with politicians. Rapidly changing demographics within parties make it difficult to predict election results. This uncertainty motivates candidates to resort to intimidation tactics or even assassinations so they can be sure of winning. Party coalitions have also altered voting expectations. Currently, the president of Mexico, López Obrador, and the majority of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate are members of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA). Recently, though, rivals of MORENA have formed coalitions that threaten MORENA politicians. The Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) recently formed a coalition which represents over half of voters in 18 of Mexico’s 31 states. The coalition decided to only support their own candidates. This allyship could prove difficult for MORENA to overcome. It doesn’t help that, according to El Economista, polls show that citizens are tired of Mexico’s economic policies, as well as its response to the coronavirus and public safety issues. This discontent may prompt citizens to vote for parties other than MORENA in hopes for change, making candidates affiliated with the party particularly uncertain of their political futures.
The second and final problem fuelling heightened violence is divisive discourse. Arturo Espinosa, general director of the political consultancy Estrategia Electoral, recently stated that the aggressive and divisive discourse of politicians at all three levels of government, local, state, and federal, encourages political violence.
To stop the brutality against civil servants, Mexico must first address the political bias that allows political crimes to go unaddressed. This means that prosecutors must be appointed through free and fair elections. Prosecutor offices must also be impartial, or at least politically diverse. Prosecutors must also increase their transparency. Third-party audits must examine the cases prosecutors take up or refuse, with special attention paid to the political affiliations of the prosecutor, plaintiff, and defendant of each case. Mexican legislation must also make clear the consequences of political violence. This means escalating investigations into crimes against candidates and enforcing the prescribed penalty. Finally, politicians, particularly Mexico’s president, must employ more inclusive and tolerant discourse. Divisive rhetoric will only incite more violence.
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