Police officers custody the funeral of mayoral of Lomas candidate of the opposition, Alfredo Cabrera, in Coyuca de Benitez, Guerrero state, Mexico on May 31, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

MEXICO CITY: Mexico's election is now the bloodiest in its modern history after a candidate running for local office in central Puebla state was murdered on Friday at a political rally, taking the number of assassinated candidates to 37 ahead of Sunday's vote.

Jorge Huerta Cabrera, a candidate who was running for a council seat in the town of Izucar de Matamoros, was gunned down in the attack, according to the state prosecutor's office.

The killing takes the number of assassinated candidates in the 2024 election season to 37, one more than during the 2021 midterm election when 36 candidates were killed, according to data from security consultancy Integralia.

The issue of violent crime has emerged as one of the top issues in this year's presidential contest, in which the ruling party of outgoing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been forced to defend a persistently high murder rate, as the opposition has sought to use the bloodshed to argue for change.

Ruling party hopeful Claudia Sheinbaum is widely expected to win Sunday's vote and become Mexico's first female president.

"It's possible that violence is being used as a means to define the election in advance, particularly when certain interests are perceived to be at risk in the event that a particular political project triumphs," said Armando Vargas, an Integralia researcher.

The consultancy has also counted 828 non-lethal attacks on candidates during the current election season, up from 749 since just Monday.

Analysts point to Mexico's mix of powerful drug cartels and often corrupt local governments as contributing to the dangers faced by candidates.

Earlier this week, a local mayoral candidate in southern Guerrero state was gunned down at point-blank range during a campaign rally.

He was among 560 candidates and election officials who have been given security guards by the government due to persistent threats.

Friday's grisly assassination was captured on video, with mayhem erupting at the rally after the shots rang out.