Low credibility of elections in Guatemala after popular candidates are left out: experts

Low credibility of elections in Guatemala after popular candidates are left out: experts

The credibility of the general elections in Guatemala reaches the minimum level of confidence, according to experts, who see “a pattern” in removing opposition candidacies one after the other from the race with the possibility of making their way to the top positions of electoral preferences.

Guatemalans watched last week as the favorite in the polls, Carlos Pineda, and the Prosperidad Ciudadana party were left out of the contention for the general elections —to be held on June 25— by a judicial decision.

Pineda, a businessman from the interior of the country, took off in the preferences with messages to combat corruption, but last Friday afternoon his candidacy was “suspended” by the Contentious Administrative Court due to claims of an internal process in his party indicated by another party, Cambio, with which Pineda was initially going to participate in the elections, but with which he disassociated himself last year.

The Cambio party belongs to the politician Manuel Baldizón, who was accused and convicted of drug trafficking in the United States and later deported to Guatemala, and who also caused a stir when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) validated his candidacy as a deputy to the National Congress, but before the popular rejection, the Constitutional Court decided to leave it out of contention.

The TSE ordered on Monday all the media in the country to refrain from issuing any type of messages from the electoral campaign of the Prosperidad Ciudadana party, under penalty of sanctions.

This is the third opposition political party whose candidates are left out of the electoral process.

First, the indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera, a candidate for the left-wing Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), in a formula with former Human Rights attorney Jordán Rodas, was left out in February. Both were widely accepted among indigenous voters. Cabrera was the only indigenous woman who was going to participate in the elections. Rodas Andrade is critical of the Giammattei government. the TSE refused to register Rhodes citing that a settlement was not in force. Rodas assured that his document was valid and appealed, but the Constitutional Court denied the appeal.

Then the candidate of the right-wing Podemos party, Roberto Arzú, son of former president Álvaro Arzú and current mayor of the capital, who was heading to the first position in the polls at the beginning of March, was left out of the race. His candidacy was accepted but then the TSE withdrew the registration for allegedly campaigning early. Arzú said upon receiving the sentence that he was removed from the race “for denouncing corruption” and seeing him as his favorite. Arzú appealed the decision before the Constitutional Court, which this Thursday gave a final sentence denying the appeal.

Pineda also appealed the decision to the Constitutional Court. The appeal is still pending. Pineda’s team of lawyers announced that this Wednesday they filed “an amparo” against the TSE before the Supreme Court to suspend the printing of ballots until the Constitutional Court resolves their case.

Another candidate, Edmond Mulet, was also suspended for allegedly campaigning early for speaking out against the criminalization of journalists, and awaits sentence of the Constitutional Court. mulete marched third in a survey of Free Press at the beginning of the month.

For Manfredo Marroquín, director of Acción Ciudadana in Guatemala, a civil society organization and part of Transparency International, the chances of reversing the ruling with Pineda’s appeal, filed on Saturday before the Constitutional Court to save his candidacy and that of the party It is “a losing battle”. In his opinion, the judicial system “is co-opted.”

Marroquín said that the ongoing electoral process “with so little credibility among the population” is undoubtedly “the worst in the country’s entire democratic era since 1984”, when after decades of military-style governments, the last regime headed by the General Efrain Rios Montt.

“Practically all the powers of the State, the courts and the electoral power itself are controlled by the same force, which is what in Guatemala we call ‘the corrupt pact,'” Marroquín said.

An opinion study by the consulting firm ProDatos for Free Press and Guatevision in April it indicated that six out of 10 Guatemalans have more confidence in churches than in State institutions, and even less in the political class, with a downward trend in the last 10 years.

Control of Guatemala’s judicial apparatus is a concern of the US and the European Union, which have indicated criminal prosecution of judges and prosecutors who have been forced to flee the country into exile. They have also questioned the role of the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, re-elected in office by President Alejandro Giammattei, At the same time, five judges of the Constitutional Court continue in their positions despite having concluded their magistracies in 2021, as well as those of the plenary session of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), which ended its term on October 12, 2019. They continue in their positions.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), exiled in Washington, told the VOA that the scope of the expulsion of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and then “the dismantling of the anti-corruption apparatus” is evident.

In 2017, President Jimmy Morales, in light of the CICIG investigations into corruption, ordered the expulsion of the mission led by the United Nations, which finally left the country in January 2019. In the Giammattei government there have been charges against judges and prosecutors that investigated cases of corruption and human rights violations.

Sandoval points out that the electoral authorities have allowed the participation of candidacies that should have been prohibited, and on the contrary “use any pretext to remove opposition candidacies from the electoral process.”

One of the formulas that Sandoval says should not be registered due to constitutional prohibition is that of Sandra Torres, whom the TSE accepted for the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party. After denunciations that Romeo Estuardo Guerra Lemus, her running mate, is an evangelical pastor, something that the Constitution prohibits, the Constitutional Court nevertheless ruled in favor of the candidacy.

Sandoval says a similar disqualification should apply to candidate Zury Ríos Sosa, the daughter of General Ríos Montt, who competes with Valor on the far-right wing. Ríos was accepted by the Constitutional Court despite the prevailing rule of Article 186 that prohibits relatives of “coup plotters” from running, an argument that left her out in past elections.

Sadoval considers that the opposition parties that are still competing have “candidates without possibilities” because they are small parties without national force and that they do not have resources or enjoy preferences that make them appear as favorites. If they go up in preferences, the same strategy would be applied to them to get them out of the game, he assured.

Carlos Lam, director of the Guatemalans without Borders movement in Washington, an immigrant social and political action group, told the voice of america that there is concern because the elections “no longer have credibility” when seeing how “selective justice” is put into practice against candidates who point to the “power groups” that are governing Guatemala.

“We see these courts of law dance to their tune and respond to their funders,” Lam said. Although he believes that Carlos Pineda “is not the best option”, he says that there are “many Guatemalans who do believe in his proposals”, so he should be given the opportunity to participate.

Lam said that in Guatemala “you can no longer cover the sun with one finger” about what is happening with these repeated actions of excluding candidates using the courts, which “confirms the cooptation of the State” and that “the courts respond to interests dark”.

The discontent is such, said the activist, that in the metropolitan area of ​​Washington, where a voting center will be installed, there is a civil movement to make a “null vote.”

Marroquín, for his part, assures that it does not take much to predict that the next general elections where it is expected to elect Giammattei’s replacement, the 160 deputies of the National Congress and the 340 mayors and their municipal councils, “will be an election with very low participation and no credibility”.

The electoral roll of Guatemala has registered a little more than 9 million voters, close to 90,000 could vote in the US, where 15 voting centers will be installed throughout the country.

In the 2019 general elections, where the presidential elections were disputed until a second round, participation had two peaks. In the first round, when the National Congress and mayors were elected, 61.8% of the electoral roll attended, for the second round, which left Giammattei as the winner, participation dropped to 42.7%.

Regarding the role of the international community, Sandoval and Marroquín said that Guatemalans “are alone” because the observation system of both the Organization of American States (OAS) and the EU do not issue reports until the process is complete.

“That is too late,” said Marroquín, because by then the results have already been consummated.

The OAS Electoral Observation Mission for the elections said that the OAS Secretariat for Strengthening Democracy manifested at the end of March his concern “over the development of the candidacy registration process that is being carried out in Guatemala”.

The TSE did not respond to a request for comment from the voice of america for this report.

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