Forty-one candidates have been killed during the campaign for next week's regional and municipal elections in Colombia, the independent Electoral Observation Mission, or MOE, said Monday.

That figure represents a 52 percent increase over the last round of local and provincial balloting in 2007, the MOE said in a report to election officials.

The fatalities include 15 mayoral candidates and two-dozen people running for seats on town and city councils.

The MOE also documented 23 non-lethal attacks on office-seekers since February, along with seven kidnappings and 88 threats to candidates. All told, the 2011 campaign season has witnessed 159 incidents of "political violence," compared with 149 four years ago, the organization said.

Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, cited different statistics on election violence during a speech Monday in the northwestern city of Medellin.

"Now we have 97 violent deeds," down from 116 in the 2007 local and regional elections, the president said.

Santos, as defense minister in the 2002-2010 government of Alvaro Uribe, oversaw security at the time of the last provincial and municipal elections.

"We have seen a substantial improvement in various aspects of security in these elections," the conservative head of state said, pointing to the deployment of more than 300,000 police and military personnel ahead of Sunday's voting.

Around 32 million Colombians are eligible to choose among roughly 100,000 candidates vying for 13,555 offices, including provincial governorships, mayoralties and seats in regional legislatures.

Violence, whether from leftist rebels, right-wing militias or criminal gangs, is not the only obstacle to a successful process.

The MOE estimates that some 600,000 people have registered to vote in precincts where they do not reside, according to the group's director, Alejandra Barrios, who said the polling places receiving an influx of outside voters tend to be in areas with a history of vote-buying by business interests or traditional political clans.

"One in every three municipalities has some kind of pressure that affects the electoral process," she said in a joint interview with Caracol Radio and Television and El Espectador newspaper. 

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