Threats to free and fair elections intensify in Guatemala

During the past weeks, three presidential candidates have been barred from running for office. All of them have raised concerns about the possibility of electoral fraud in the June elections

May 31, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
2023 general elections in Guatemala
On June 25, Guatemalans will elect the successor of conservative President Alejandro Giammettei, who is leaving the office with an approval rating of just 11%. (Photo: Alejandro Giammettei/Twitter)

Guatemala’s highest court, on May 26, blocked Carlos Pineda of the conservative Prosperidad Ciudadana party from running in the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for June 25. The Constitutional Court rejected an appeal filed by Pineda against the electoral authorities’ decision to disqualify him from the presidential race, accusing him of violating the electoral law. On May 20, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) suspended Pineda’s candidacy, saying that there were problems in the process in which he was elected as a candidate.

Upon learning of the decision, Pineda condemned the Constitutional Court and alleged it was endorsing electoral fraud, “Guatemala loses and we are left without democracy!” Pineda tweeted. “Corruption won, Guatemala lost!” he wrote in another tweet.

Pineda was leading the voting intention with 22% of the votes days before his disqualification. He has since called on the people of Guatemala to cast a null vote so that new elections would be held. According to the Guatemalan Constitution, if the majority of ballots are protest votes, the election authorities are obligated to repeat the electoral process.

Pineda is the third presidential candidate to be barred from running for office. Last week, the court rejected the final appeal of Roberto Arzú of the right-wing Podemos political party for carrying out an early political campaign. The week before that, the court ruled Thelma Cabrera of the left-wing political party Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP) ineligible to run because of an issue related to paperwork with her running mate, Jordán Rodas. A fourth candidate, Edmond Mulet of the center-wight Cabal party, also faces the possibility of exclusion for making comments against the persecution of journalists in the country. The Constitutional Court is expected to rule on his candidacy this week.

Across the board, the candidates who have been blocked by the TSE on dubious grounds, have raised concerns about the credibility of the electoral process. They have accused the electoral authorities of using the judicial system to reduce competition for candidates acceptable to the establishment, also arguing that an uneven playing field could prevent the elections from being free and fair and provoke electoral fraud.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch have also expressed concern about the exclusion of candidates and sounded the alarm over the June elections.

During the past four years of the outgoing government of conservative President Alejandro Giammattei, the political as well as socio-economic situation of the country worsened. Corruption, insecurity, high cost of living and unemployment are among the major issues facing the country. Giammattei is leaving office with an approval rating of 11%. Manuel Conde, the candidate for Giammattei’s Vamos party, is polling at just 4%.

In total, twenty-two candidates are contesting in the presidential race. Former first lady Sandra Torres; Zury Rios, the daughter of a former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt; and former-UN diplomat Edmond Mulet are among the leading candidates. In case no candidate secures over 50% of the vote, a second round between the two leading candidates will take place on August 20.

On June 25, in addition to electing the country’s new president, vice president, over 9 million Guatemalans will go to the polls to also elect 160 legislators, 20 members of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) as well as mayors and councilors for all 340 municipalities in the country for the period of 2024-2028.