Someone Left a Severed Head on Top of a Voting Booth in Tijuana

Amputated body parts were also strewn near the polling station in the border city. But around the country, this weekend's local elections were largely peaceful.
A man registers to cast his ballot during the mid-term elections at a polling station in Tepatitlan de Morelos, Mexico on June 6, 2021.
A man registers to cast his ballot during the mid-term elections at a polling station in Tepatitlan de Morelos, Mexico on June 6, 2021. Photo by Bernardette Gomez/Xinhua via Getty Images.

MEXICO CITY — A decapitated head was found at a polling station in Tijuana. A group of hooded vandals beat up elections officials and voters at a polling station in the state of Mexico. And an official from the country’s election oversight institute was murdered one day before the elections.

Even so, election day itself was considered relatively peaceful, as a little more than 50 percent of Mexico’s eligible voters cast their ballot on Sunday. The results were a mixed bag for Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose Morena party lost a significant number of seats in Congress but picked up governorships across the country.

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Morena will now have to rely on votes from allied political parties to reach a simple majority threshold in Congress — a defeat because the party currently holds a majority on its own. 

The elections also deprived López Obrador of his desired two-thirds majority in Congress, which would have made it easier for him to change the constitution. On the other hand, Morena picked up 10 governorships, giving the party control of 17 of 32 states.

“Morena is the strongest single political force in the country. He still controls the entire federal government and all the regulatory institutions,” said Pamela K. Starr, an expert on Mexican politics at the University of Southern California. “He still has a great deal of power which will allow him to continue governing the country in a proactive way.” 

A left-leaning populist, López Obrador has staked his legacy on elevating the poor, reducing inequality, and eradicating corruption. But his pugilistic style and nonstop attacks on the press, civil society groups and independent watchdog agencies has alienated many former allies. López Obrador saw a huge erosion of support among the middle class in Mexico City, where he served as a popular mayor from 2000 to 2005.

The election “reaffirms the path to democracy,” López Obrador said at his morning press conference on Monday, following the election. “That is fundamental, that we can resolve our differences through electoral channels, through peaceful means.”

But the weeks leading up to election day were anything but peaceful, as the country experienced one of the most violent campaigns in modern history. At least 89 candidates have been killed since September, according to consulting firm Etellekt, and scores more threatened. One mayoral candidate was murdered in broad daylight, one day after filming a campaign ad promising to stand strong against organized crime. And just one day before the election, motorcycle-riding hitmen murdered an official from Mexico’s federal elections institute in the state of Tlaxcala. 

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“The violence that we saw in the lead-up to the election was to do with organized crime groups making statements and taking out candidates they didn’t like. But it wasn’t about voter intimidation,” said Duncan Wood, senior adviser to the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., who served as an election observer in Mexico City on Sunday. “People were motivated to vote,” he added. “Election Day was relatively peaceful.” 

That is, with exceptions. Election day in Tijuana was marred by decapitated bodies. At one polling station, a man left a wooden box with a decapitated head on top of a voting booth before fleeing on foot. Two plastic bags with human remains were later found near the polling site. Officials haven’t offered a motive for the crime or announced any arrests related to it.

In Mexico State, 10 to 15 men busted into a polling station early Sunday morning, overturning voting booths, destroying election material, and beating up elections officials as well as voters waiting to cast their ballots. Witnesses posted videos of the attack on social media. Following the incident, the National Guard and local police were sent to the polling location.

López Obrador registered his biggest losses in Mexico City, normally a left-leaning bastion. A coalition of parties opposing Morena captured 46 percent of the vote, while Morena registered just 20 percent. The votes were split cleanly along geographic and economic lines, with the city’s poorer east-side voting for López Obrador and its wealthier west-side favoring opposition parties.  

The president blamed the poor results on a “dirty war” perpetuated by “propaganda” from critical media outlets. He mentioned by name the UK outlet The Economist, which last month published a cover story on the Mexican president under the title “Mexico’s false messiah.”