In the June 25 Guatemalan presidential election, Bernardo Arévalo shocked the country by winning 11.8 percent of the vote, according to Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). The success of Arévalo, who previously served in congress and is the son of one of Guatemala’s most important presidents—Juan José Arévalo, who was elected in 1945 and oversaw the country’s democratic spring between 1944 and 1954—was unforeseen, as polling had suggested prior to election day that he was not even among the top five candidates.
Arévalo campaigned with the progressive Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement) party on an anti-corruption platform and on improving healthcare, education, and addressing distrust in the country’s police force, which has been plagued by corruption for years.
Despite his unexpected second-place victory, Arévalo faces significant challenges leading up to the runoff election on August 20.
However, despite his unexpected second-place victory, Arévalo faces significant challenges leading up to the runoff election on August 20 because neither candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote. Shortly after the voting in June, the far-right and dominant political parties sought to delay the runoff in the country’s courts.
On July 7, Chief Justice Silvia Valdés Quezada of the Guatemalan Supreme Court issued a highly unusual order, requiring electoral authorities to issue a personal report to her about their methods and any inconsistencies that had been detected in the balloting. Her order gave electoral officials only twelve hours to issue the report.
Valdés Quezada has faced widespread accusations of corruption, but she has received immunity from the Constitutional Court. She has also previously defended Guatemalan officials listed by the U.S. Department of State as corrupt and anti-democratic actors.
The previous challenge to the election results came almost a week after voting took place. The country’s Constitutional Court intervened, issuing a stay on the certification of the results until it reviewed the votes. The temporary stay, the result of a legal complaint made by nine political parties, including the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party and the parties whose candidates had polled higher prior to the vote, argued that there were “inconsistencies, alterations, and other discrepancies” in the counting of votes.
In their decision, the country’s highest court ordered a review of the vote tallies, which electoral officials carried out between July 4 through July 6. The review found only minor issues, and upheld the results of the elections.
Movimiento Semilla issued a challenge to the Justices’ order. On July 10, the Supreme Court issued a statement that the review had met its requirements, permitting the officialization of the results. This gave the green light to the scheduled runoff election, which will occur on August 20.
Yet just days later, the anti-corruption unit within the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s office intervened. The unit, led by Rafael Curruchiche, requested the suspension of the party over allegations that Semilla had obtained 5000 signatures to form the party illegally.
Semilla has rejected this accusation, stating that this is yet another attempt to remove the party after their surprise victory. And they might not be far off, as the court order obtained by Curruchiche not only violates the constitutional order, but it also bypasses proper channels for suspending a party.
Semilla obtained an injunction from the Constitutional Court on July 12, which blocked the lower court’s order. Yet Curruchiche and the Public Prosecutor’s office have stated they will continue their investigation of Semilla.
Residents and supporters of Semilla have taken to the streets to denounce the move.
In one of the first protests on July 8, during the court’s deliberation, a protest of hundreds of students and other citizens concerned with the state of Guatemala’s democracy marched through the historic center of Guatemala City to the Supreme Electoral Council, demanding that the electoral body ratify the election results. With chants of “In the ballot box, not in the courts,” demonstrators expressed their anger at the delays of the certification of Guatemala’s June 25 elections.
For protesters, the delays only exemplify the corrupt politicians’ and economic elites’ fears of the possibility of an anti-corruption party winning the presidency.
The court challenges have angered many. But for protesters, the delays only exemplify the corrupt politicians’ and economic elites’ fears of the possibility of an anti-corruption party winning the presidency.
“There is a clear intention by corrupt groups to use the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court to not let Semilla participate,” Gracio, a thirty-four-year-old history student from the University of San Carlos, who declined to provide his full name out of fear of repercussions, tells The Progressive, while huddled with others under an umbrella to escape the rain. “As we say, ‘the elections are resolved in the polls, not the courts.’”
Movimiento Semilla’s success has brought hope for many young voters in Guatemala, especially as the impacts of corruption have become all the more visible since the closure of the United Nations backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, commonly known as CICIG, in 2019.
“We felt hope and happiness [with Semilla’s success],” Kristen, a eighteen-year-old political science student from the University of San Carlos, who declined to give her last name out of fear of repercussions, tells The Progressive during the march. “Many people were resigned to the fact that the corrupt politicians had made an alliance and were likely to win, but [Semilla’s success] is joyful.”
Another form of protest made this election particularly notable: The TSE reported that 17.39 percent of all votes were cast as null and another 7 percent of votes were left blank.
Generally null votes are seen as a protest vote against the elections in general, essentially declaring that none of the presented candidates represent the voters. But in this election cycle the outcry escalated following the exclusion of candidates by the Electoral body, including far-right populist candidate Carlos Pineda who called on his supporters to vote null after he was excluded from the elections.
Despite resistance to the government’s interference in the election, Arévalo still has another obstacle: his opponent in the runoff, Sandra Torres.
Torres, the former first lady (from 2008 to 2011) and a businesswoman, is attempting for the third time to win the presidency with the UNE party. She has faced accusations of corruption, which she has denied. In the June 25 election, she won 15.78 percent of the vote, the most votes of any candidate.
While she has stated she will carry out a clean campaign, she and the party have already come out swinging, accusing Movimiento Semilla of carrying out a dirty campaign against her. She has also embraced the language of the far right.
“[Torres] and UNE are going to bring together the entire ultra-right, super-conservative, business sector in the country,” Renzo Rosal, a Guatemalan independent political analyst, tells The Progressive. “Sandra has now moved to the radical right—now Torres’s discourse is the same as or stronger than that of Zury Ríos.”
As Torres has moved to the right, she has increasingly sought to win the evangelical vote by embracing the language of the defense of the family and falsely suggesting that Arévalo and the Movimiento Semilla party are “communists” who will “outlaw” the Christian religion and “destroy the family.”
These narratives have been propagated and spread by evangelical pastors, who have told their congregations that the progressive party will outlaw the Bible.
These narratives have been propagated and spread by evangelical pastors, who have told their congregations that the progressive party will outlaw the Bible. But in response, many religious voters who support Semilla have pushed back against these accusations.
The use of these narratives is not only totally false, and reflective of the propagation of disinformation in the country’s elections, but it is also illegal. According to Article 67 of Guatemala’s electoral and political party laws, the use of religious narrative is prohibited.
Torres’s campaign has also violated the country’s constitution with regard to her running mate, which prohibits candidates for president or vice president from being an active pastor during campaign. Torres’s running mate, Romeo Estuardo Guerra Lemus, is an active pastor, who has continued to falsely criticized Semilla online in a now deleted tweet for their progressive politics and echoed far-right talking points.
“I think we need a change of government, not the same after the same,” – Sandra Martínez
Many of these religious groups have been accused of corruption and ties to drug trafficking networks. But for many voters, the hope seen in the Movimiento Semilla means that many of these corrupt structures might come to an end.
“I think we need a change of government, not the same after the same,” Sandra Martínez, a forty-nine-year-old businesswoman who joined the march on July 8, tells The Progressive.
“It is not convenient for [corrupt parties] to change [when] there is something new,” she said. “Something new means that the robbery, the corruption, all comes to an end.”
ZNetwork is funded solely through the generosity of its readers.Donate