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Polls open in Mexico legislative elections

June 6, 2021

Mexicans are heading to the polls in one of the biggest elections the country has ever seen. Analysts say the vote is a test for the president, and for democracy. DW has an overview.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes part in his daily press conference
Some see the election as referendum on Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez ObradorImage: Jose Mendez/Agencia EFE/imago images

Observers say Sunday's election marathon, taking place against the extremely tense backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis and escalating violence, will also be seen as a referendum on the presidency of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, aka AMLO, halfway through his six-year term. DW takes a look at the key questions.

Who is being elected?

According to Mexico's National Electoral Institute (INE), there are 500 seats up for grabs in the chamber of deputies and about 1,000 seats in various state congresses, as well as 15 of 32 state governorships, almost 2,000 mayorships and about 14,000 seats on local councils. Nearly 100 million Mexicans are eligible to vote.

What is at stake?

The results will set the course for the world's most populous Spanish-speaking country. The new composition of the federal congress will determine whether President Lopez Obrador's leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) is able to hold on to its absolute majority, currently 256 of 500 seats. The opposition alliance is doing all that it can to prevent this outcome.

Security forces patrol in Acapulco, Mexico
Rule of law is a 'major problem' in MexicoImage: Marco Ugarte/AP Photo/picture alliance

According to a May poll conducted by Simo Consulting and commissioned by the daily El Pais newspaper, Morena is likely to lose its majority and would thus become dependent on alliances. But the president, who was elected in 2018, has remained popular, with 66% of those surveyed saying they were satisfied with his administration.

"These midterm elections will demonstrate whether the Mexican state and its institutions are capable of ensuring a nonpartisan and transparent democratic process," said Elisa Gomez from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Mexico City. She told DW that Mexicans had discovered their enthusiasm for democracy after the 2018 election.

How has violence shaped the election?

Once again, this election campaign has been plagued by extreme violence. According to the Mexican consulting firm Integralia, at least 143 candidates have been murdered and 270 cases of assaults or threats have been registered in the lead-up to the vote. The most recent victim was Rene Tovar, who was running for mayor in the eastern state of Veracruz. The local leftist politician was shot and killed by unknown assailants on Saturday.

This year's campaign has seen 30% more fatalities than that of 2015.

"This is a tragedy for Mexican democracy," said Ruben Aguilar, a sociologist and political adviser, adding that violence had increased all over the country. With a record 85,000 deaths over the past three years, Aguilar said the government's security strategy had "failed."

"The fact that rule of law is so weak in Mexico is a major problem," Gomez told DW, explaining that crime and violence had soared because there was an impunity rate of over 90%. She pointed out that the "crucial question in a state where criminal groups can challenge the state's monopoly on violence is how to build democracy."

What impact has COVID had on the vote?

Mexico is one of the countries that have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Our World in Data, its case fatality rate, the ratio between confirmed deaths and confirmed cases, was 9.41% as of June 2, making it the worst in the world — along with Peru.

Indigenous Wixarica people receive vaccines
Not even a fifth of the Mexican population has received a first shotImage: Ulises Ruiz/AFP/Getty Images

Only 18% of the population has received a first shot of the vaccine, compared to 22% in Brazil. Recent polls show that Mexicans are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with President AMLO's management of the pandemic. According to the Mexican consulting agency Mitofsky, approval has fallen from almost 60% in April to 54%. 

How has the economy been affected? 

The pandemic has also had a major economic impact, with the World Bank predicting that Mexico's economic growth will shrink from 3.7% this year to 2.6% in 2022.

According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty had already increased from 10% in 2019 to 18% in 2020. 

Mexico developing its own vaccine

"The heavy losses and setbacks in the country's social development will in no way be offset by the programs created by the government to reduce social inequality," wrote Hans-Hartwig Blomeier, the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Mexico, in his latest report.

This article has been translated from German