A Glimpse at Guatemala’s Election Panorama 2011*
By Barbara Schieber
Guatemala City. The ghosts of the past Guatemalan elections are creeping into the 2011 presidential election landscape. The first murder this year of an election official happened last Thursday. The Jalapa delegate of the Supreme Electoral Court Hilario Antonio Lopez was killed he had worked for the Supreme Election Court for 20 years. Political activists, civil society groups, human rights groups, the press and the politicians fear that this could be a very violent election process, more violent than the past one. The main factor in this election cycle is the unknown magnitude of illegal financing of the political parties and what that might represent.
Basically all the legally registered political parties are guilty of early promotion of their political parties and presidential candidates. The official date to start election propaganda by law, according to the Supreme Electoral Court of Guatemala, is in May 2011. Several parties have been fined because they infringed the law. However, the penalty is $ 150, a very small and insignificant sum of money. It does not deter the political parties from their illegal activities.
The landscape is full of party logos and propaganda painted on rocks, walls, trees, streets, billboards and electricity posts. Several of the potential presidential and vice-presidential candidates have shows on cable TV and the radio, where they are supposedly only doing a show. Others call those shows self promotion and illegal political propaganda.
Some candidates publish paid pages of informative messages in the printed press and spots on national TV, cable and radio stations. The printed press, Cable, TV and radio stations accept these payments. It is not clear what is propaganda and what is considered legal “informative messages” according to the potential candidates, their parties and the Supreme Electoral Court of Guatemala.
The Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Court claims that their budget is far too small to monitor and detect all the illegal political propaganda activities.
The political propaganda issue shows that almost none of the political parties or candidates have respect for the law. It is a mayor issue of show of character and probable future attitudes towards respecting any law of the country. Every party accuses the others of infringing the law that includes the official party UNE.
The “illegal” Presidential Candidates.
This is the most discussed and hot topic of these elections. Considerable time and resources are spent to prove or disprove that certain candidates are illegal. Meaning, they can not opt for the presidency because they have legal impediments according to the law of Guatemala.
The candidates whose legality is in question are:
The First Lay Sandra Colom, wife of current President Alvaro Colom. She has never been officially designated as the next presidential candidate for UNE, the current ruling party, but political analysts assume that she will be the official candidate. She is legally barred form running according to the Guatemalan Constitution that bars presidential family members from running.
Legal arguments to dispute this specific law have been presented by supporters of Sandra de Colom. Other lawyers of Guatemala have presented the legal arguments that impede the candidacy of the First Lady. It is not possible to determine at this point in time whether the First Lady will take her case to the Guatemalan Constitutional Court for appeal or if the official party will decide to designate another candidate with no legal impediments.
Mayor of Guatemala City, Alvaro Arzu, ex-president of Guatemala. Article 186 of the Guatemalan Constitution states that the person who has been president by democratic elections or coup d’état, can not be eligible as presidential candidate.
His decision to run for the presidency has caused alarm in the right wing sectors of Guatemala. As it is, the traditional powers of Guatemala have about 10 candidates that all want to be president, a situation that in the last election cycle fragmented the vote of their electoral base and left them weak.
Parliamentarian, Zury Mayté Ríos Montt Sosa de Weller is the daughter of ex- military dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Se was proclaimed the official candidate for president of the FRG party in October 2010. She is legally barred as a candidate according to the Guatemalan Constitution that bars presidential family members from running.
The decision to determine the legality of a candidate rests in the hands of Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, a court that once ruled that Efrain Rios Mont had no legal impediment to run for presidency. A decision that later was overturned. General Efraín Ríos Montt seized power in a coup d’état in 1982.
The New Guatemalan Constitutional Court, CC, to be elected in 2011.
This year the new members of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court have to be elected. They are elected every 5 years starting their term on the 14th of April.
There are five entities that can each select a magistrate and a substitute magistrate to conform the 5 magistrates of the CC.
1. The Guatemalan Congress
2. The Supreme Court of Guatemala
3. The President of the Republic and the Council of Ministers
4. The University of San Carlos Of Guatemala
5. The Guatemalan Bar Association
Basically the elections are in the hands of the same people who have shown little regard for the criteria of honorability for selecting candidates for judges, magistrates and attorney general last year. These entities where criticized last year for including a number of inadequate candidates in their nomination lists. Some of them had criminal backgrounds, others where linked to illegal adoptions, others had pending legal processes, others did not meet academic qualifications, or where family members of other important judiciary functionaries, which disqualified them.
It can be assumed that all mayor power players will want to influence the election of the CC. It is in the end the CC who decides the legality of the presidential candidates.
The Guatemalan Bar Association, on of the sectors that participates in the elections of the members of the new Constitutional Court., has its elections coming up soon. The Guatemalan Bar Association is elected by the active members of the Bar. Accusations of corruption and traffic of influences have been denounced by the press already.
Other Issues of the 2011 Elections
The Supreme Electoral Court of Guatemala was once the most respected democratic institution in the country. Now the situation has changed, their budget is far too small; it needs more political and economic support to be effective.
The new national identity card was supposed to be the only legal document for Guatemalan citizens allowed as voter ID in 2011. A serious amount of problems in RENAP, Registro Nacional de Personas,(National Register of Citizens) has delayed the process of extending the new national identity card and a decision was made by Congress to allow the new ID and the old ID, Cedula de Vecindad, (Guatemala’s National Personal Identification after reaching the age of 18 years), as voter ID in the 2011 election.
Voter Register. After serious concerns where voiced about the 2011 voter register (Padron Electoral), related to supposed irregularities caused by the RENAP, National Register of Citizens, the OAS performed an audit in December 2010. The OAS concluded that the voter register was reliable and there was no risk of contamination by the new national identity card. OAS stated that the quality of the voter register was as good as it has been since it was established. The President of the Supreme Election Tribunal of Guatemala, Dr. Maria Eugenia Villagran received the reports of the OAS and expressed her satisfaction concerning the findings. More than 6 million Guatemalans are registered to vote so far.
Lack of Transparency in the Financing of the Political Parties
The law of political parties in Guatemala is obsolete; it has a series of flaws that impede the possibility to seriously audit the parties’ sources of income. Since large amounts of cash transactions are possible, the books that the parties keep to comply with the law of political parties can in theory exclude the cash transactions and therefore may not be a reflection of the reality of financing.
Electoral Intention Polls
Guatemalan newspaper “El Periódico” published the first electoral poll of 2011 on January the 5th 2011. According to their findings General Otto Molina, Partido Patriota party is ahead in the polls with 38.9% of voter intent. The First Lady, Sandra de Colom of the UNE party has 11% of voter intent. Eduardo Suger, Centro de Accion Social, CASA party has 5.7%, Haroldo Caballeros, Vision con Valores, VIVA party has 5%, Alvaro Arzu, Unionista party has 2.7% and Nineth Montenegro, Encuentro por Guatemala party, has 2.1%.
Photo: Christian Van Der Henst