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Americas

Economic worries and drug violence plague legislative elections

Video by Rachel MARUSAK , Laurence CUVILLIER

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-07-06

Mexican voters head to the polls on Sunday to seat 500 lawmakers and mayors as the country grapples with rising drug-related violence, a pandemic flu outbreak and the worst economic downturn in 15 years.

Mexico heads to the polls on Sunday to seat 500 lawmakers and mayors across the country in the midst of brutal drug-fuelled violence, a pandemic flu outbreak and the worst economic downturn in 15 years.
  
Some 77 million Mexicans are eligible to vote in Sunday's mid-term elections to choose who will occupy 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and scores of governorships and mayoralties around the country.
  
It is estimated, however, less than half -- some 30 million -- will make it to the polls.
  
The high political apathy reflects substantial skepticism both of the political elites here and the ability of politicians to provide security -- both physical and economic -- to the 47 percent of the 103-million strong population that subsist in poverty.
  
Worries about the economy, which shrunk 8.2 percent in the first quarter, continues to sour the national mood as unabated drug-related violence also flourishes.
  
The vicious circle of murder, recrimination, inter-gang wars and confrontation with the Mexican army has left some 10,000 people dead since late 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a muscular campaign to clamp down on the cartels.
  
That gamble will be put to the test on Sunday.
  
The cartels for their part have stepped up their campaign of terror leading up to the elections. In the country's north, the epicenter for most of the violence, officials on Thursday said 16 people were found dead -- at least four of them beheaded.
  
Even in regions less directly affected by the drug trade, such as the Mexican capital, residents readily experience insecurity, with an uptick in kidnappings in recent months.
  
A local civilian leader, a businessman whose son was kidnapped and killed, has even championed candidates signing a public notice promising to combat violent crime if elected.
  
Most polling has found that the third party opposition, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is set to regain a hold on the electorate.
  
The party is eagerly awaiting a return of control after its historic 2000 drubbing by the ruling National Action Party (PAN) that cut short what had been a 71-year run in power.
  
The leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, meanwhile, is weighed down by fierce internal conflict and is likely to move from second strongest party to third.
  
Calderon's PAN campaign has run on the president's high profile security initiatives, but the country's disastrous economic outlook is expected to prove decisive in swaying voters.
  
The recession has pushed the economy to its worst performance since 1995, when an economic crisis and devaluation of the peso caused GDP to sink 6.9 percent under what became known as the "Tequila Effect."
  
Mexico's economy, declared to be in recession on May 7, shrunk 8.2 percent in the first quarter, and the finance minister predicted GDP would drop 5.5 percent in 2009.
  
The recession in the United States has hit Mexican exports hard, reduced the flow of money sent home by migrants, and dealt a blow to tourism, all key contributors to Mexico's one-trillion-dollar economy.
  
The latest figures do not even take into account the full impact of A(H1N1) flu, which, after it emerged here at the end of April, led to a virtual shutdown of parts of the country and scared off tourists.
  
The swine flu has since been declared a pandemic and killed 332 people worldwide and infected 77,201, according to the latest World Health Organization figures.

Date created : 2009-07-05

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