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Drug Traffickers, Gangs Blamed For Violence Prior To Mexico's Elections

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The largest election in Mexico's history was held yesterday, with more posts contested than ever before. But the runup to these midterm elections was marked by violence, with three dozen candidates murdered. Drug traffickers and criminal gangs are blamed for much of the killing. Local politicians in many parts of the country are suspected also of resorting to violence to settle scores. NPR's correspondent in Mexico City, Carrie Kahn, joins us now. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So three dozen - 36 candidates were murdered in the runup to this election. So what was Election Day like?

KAHN: Surprisingly, it was pretty calm overall. There were isolated problems, but I'd say it went really well, given how violent the last few weeks have been. And some of the most conflictive areas of the country - that voters clearly were not willing or wanted to come out to vote. But remember these are midterm elections, so voter turnout was expected to be low, somewhere around 40%.

FADEL: So these were very large midterm elections. What's actually at stake here?

KAHN: Nearly half of all the governor races in the country were on the ballot, every seat in the lower house of the Congress and more than 2,000 local posts, like mayors and local legislative posts. The one thing that wasn't on the ballot was the president's race. And that's because Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is nearly halfway through his one term. Presidents in Mexico can't be reelected. So he wasn't on the ballot. But this election has turned into a referendum on his administration so far. Lopez Obrador has been a very polarizing president here. He has a very nationalistic, anti-establishment agenda. He says he's cleaning up Mexico's endemic corruption and transforming the country away from past free-market policies that only favored the rich. And he says his policies put the poor first. His opponents have characterized him as a dangerous, power-grabbing populist who demonizes his opponents. He frequently attacks the media, independent institutions and the judiciary. Like I said, he's been very polarizing, but he has also maintained a high popularity.

FADEL: So what do we actually know about how the Mexican president did? Like you said, it's kind of a referendum on him. Will he hold on to his supermajority in Congress?

KAHN: Preliminary results show that the party did pretty well. He won a majority in the lower house of the Congress, but he doesn't have that outright supermajority like he's enjoyed for the past three years. So his opponents will definitely highlight that as a loss. In the states, though, there was a lot of competition, and some races are too close to call still. But his Morena Party appears to have secured 8, maybe 10 of the 15 states up for grabs. So that's a good showing. But a big upset, though - it looks like he might have lost Mexico City. The capital has been his stronghold since he won the mayor race back here in 2000.

FADEL: So let's talk about what was actually on voters' minds yesterday - COVID, the pandemic, the economy are on on voters' minds around the world. Was that also on the minds of voters in Mexico and voters you spoke to?

KAHN: You'd think COVID, with Mexico ranking fourth in the world with deaths from the pandemic or the economic crisis here or Mexico's horrific violence would all be, like, No. 1 issue on voters' minds. But the people I talked to - they did mention those issues, but first and foremost, they were there to vote for or against the president's party. So check out these voters in Mexico City. First there's Cynthia Lopez. She's a 54-year-old music teacher, and she came out to defend the president and his party.

CYNTHIA LOPEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She says, "Look. It took us 30 years or more to get where we are. It's not like he's going to make - fix all the problems in one day." She's talking about corruption, which she admits Lopez Obrador has not been able to combat as much as she hoped. But she's willing to give him more time to make the the changes he promised. Other voters I talked to - they came out to vote against Lopez Obrador. He says he has too much power right now, and they didn't want it to get worse.

FADEL: That was NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thank you, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.