By Paolina Albani – May 4, 2023
Two presidential candidates, a vice presidential candidate, an aspiring congressional candidate, and a former mayoral candidate of Guatemala City describe how the malicious use of the institutional framework left them out of both the 2023 general elections in Guatemala and the legal battle strategy to assert their right to elect and be elected.
Presidential candidate Thelma Cabrera and her running mate Jordán Rodas of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP); presidential candidate Roberto Arzú of Podemos; aspiring congress member for Vos, Aldo Dávila; and Juan Francisco Solórzano Foppa of the coalition of leftist parties Semilla/URNG/Winaq are five of the 3,939 candidates excluded by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) or the General Comptroller of Accounts (CGC) from participating in the general elections scheduled for June 25 in Guatemala. Some of these exclusions are political in nature.
This political blockade is comprised of administrative issues such as the invalidation of party assemblies, accusations of early campaigning, denial of validity, and refusal to terminate legal procedures against candidates who have been officials in the past.
The blockade has also covered criminal activity. On March 22, the Congress approved a reform of the Penal Code (decree 8-2023) which penalizes electricity theft with up to eight years in prison.
This reform seems to be directed against members of the MLP, some of whom also belong to the Peasant Development Committee (CODECA) which for years has been singled out and stigmatized for energy theft. CODECA has demanded for years that rural electrification be implemented as a national policy.
The inconsistencies and arbitrariness in the decisions of the TSE lend support to the theory of electoral fraud in the making, to which former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutiérrez has referred in his prediction that the elections of this year will be “the most vulnerable and manipulated elections in 40 years.”
On the one hand, the Comptroller’s Office has provided judicial settlement to officials with open criminal proceedings, as is the case of Ricardo Quiñonez, mayor of Guatemala City, who is seeking reelection as candidate of the Unionist party and registered his candidacy on February 15. However, the Comptroller’s Office has refused settlement for Solórzano Foppa on the grounds that there are unresolved open proceedings against him.
El Registro de Ciudadanos del TSE entregó a Ricardo Quiñónez su credencial como candidato a alcalde de la Ciudad de Guatemala. Quiñónez busca su reelección como jefe edil de la capital. pic.twitter.com/E4B2WzlkZK
— Azteca Noticias GT (@AztecaNoticiaGT) February 15, 2023
For Jordán Rodas, the vice-presidential candidate of the MLP, the TSE invalidated the settlement that was provided to him last December, due to a couple of unclear complaints on the part of the intervener, Human Rights Ombudsperson Alejandro Córdova. Based on this, the court argued that Rodas’ settlement “is not updated,” despite the fact that it is still valid.
Yet the TSE has allowed the registration of candidates with clear constitutional prohibitions, such Zury Ríos of the conservative and ultra-right Valor party, who should have been prohibited for being the daughter of a de facto dictator, Efrain Ríos Montt, imprisoned for his role in massacres of indigenous people during the 80s. The TSE has also registered confessed drug traffickers such as Dionel Ramos Aguilar, current mayor of Esquipulas Palo Gordo, San Marcos; cult leaders such as the vice-presidential candidate of the coalition UNE, Romeo Eduardo Guerra Lemus; and candidates who have been convicted for money laundering, like Manuel Baldizón.
#TODOS presentó recurso de nulidad en contra de la inscripción del Binomio de la UNE encabezado por Sandra Torres, @RicardoSagastu y Moy Gonzalez, Binomio de #TODOS hicieron un llamado al TSE para que rechace la inscripción del Ministro de Culto, Romeo Eduardo Guerra Lemus. pic.twitter.com/OXEdUJmdNY
— Partido TODOS (@TODOSXGT) January 31, 2023
On the other hand, Abelino Chub Caal, Maya-Q’eqchi environmental defender, tried to run for mayor of El Estor, Izabal, on the MLP ticket, but was prohibited even without having a legal impediment, simply because the judiciary has not cleared his police record, although he was absolved more than four years ago of a spurious accusation that tried to criminalize his work as an environmental activist.
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This confirms that the TSE has applied different criteria in the process of authorizing or prohibiting political participation, applying double standards in limitations due to criminal proceedings, complaints, requests for disqualification, or investigation.
These facts have led some of the excluded candidates to conclude that this political blockade is part of an electoral fraud, but a fraud with very different characteristics from other electoral processes in the past, especially in Latin America, which have been widely documented.
The typical cases of electoral fraud in Latin America are those in which rigging and corruption alerts arise on the day of the voting with carting, vote buying, manipulation of the electoral roll, or shutdown of the counting system, as exemplified by what happened in Mexico in 1988; military intervention, as in the case of the 1990 elections in Nicaragua; or the bombardment of fake news in Brazil to take Jair Bolsonaro to victory in 2018. However, this fraud in the making in Guatemala is different because of its preemptive nature. The goal is to clear the table long before the guest list for the event is finalized.
According to a report of the Electoral Observation Mission of Guatemala (EOM), five presidential aspirants are uncertain of their candidacies due to injunctions filed in the CSJ and the Constitutional Court or due to pre-trial requests. This means that 24% of the presidential aspirants are in court.
This makes the EOM fear that the credibility of the elections is in danger “since the improper use of judicial resources to alter the electoral competence is motivated, in part, by the application of contradictory and inconsistent criteria by the magistrates of the TSE.”
“The reasoning of the magistrates’ votes evidenced marked differences in the application of the criteria to qualify the merits of capacity, suitability, and honesty of the aspirants,” the report warned. The EOM has recommended the TSE to review and analyze its decisions to ensure the suitability of the candidates and the free exercise of the right to be elected of those who have been or are victims of spurious accusations.
Fraud prior to voting day is not new in Guatemala. Just last year, the rector election of the San Carlos University of Guatemala City laid the groundwork for the exclusion of uncomfortable candidates, who the mafias saw as having a good chance of winning.
One of the excluded candidates was Jordán Rodas, who at the time was the Human Rights Ombudsperson.
On that occasion, some members of the Superior Council of the university excluded several electoral bodies and supported the imposition of Walter Mazariegos as the new rector, chosen by President Alejandro Giammattei, thus undermining university autonomy. Since then, several voices in the academia as well as political experts pointed out that the general elections of 2023 would be similar to the fraudulent rector election. Now, months later, those warnings have been proven correct.
While the fraud has been characterized by excluding candidates with a chance of winning, it also seeks to promote others to achieve political victory. Zury Ríos and Sandra Torres would be favored by the actions of the CSJ which, on April 13, definitively denied the appeals filed by the Cabal and Todos parties against the registration of the candidates of Valor and UNE.
If in previous elections the concern of the voters has been “to vote for the least evil,” in this election the concern is different: will the fraud be completed beforehand, and in whose favor will it be? The shadow of doubt keeps in suspense which candidates will be the strongest in the race, and who may advance to the second round.
Lawyer Adrian Zapata describes a scenario that could confirm, definitively, the preemptive fraud: the exclusion of Edmond Mulet, presidential candidate of Cabal party, who had initially been registered by the TSE and thereafter suffered judicial attacks that led to the revocation of his registration.
Excluding disruptive options
The excluded candidates mentioned at the beginning represent disruptive alternatives. For example, the MLP, Semilla/Urng/Winaq, Vos, and even Podemos, which in its campaign has promised to end monopolies, are part of the anti-establishment vote. This generated disputes between Podemos’ presidential aspirant Roberto Arzú and groups of the economic elite who were allies of his father, former President Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen, but, above all, his brother, the congressman and candidate for reelection, Álvaro Arzú Escobar, for the Unionist party.
Roberto Arzú comes from that economic elite, but has chosen to distance himself from the pro-corruption sector that has been behind the process of “recooptation,” as anthropologist and sociologist Alejandro Flores has called it.
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The recooptation is nothing more than the recovery of state institutions at the service of private interests, whose objective is to prevent them from being brought to justice again, as happened with the arrests of a number of corrupt elites due to complaints by the Superintendency of Tax Administration, when Solórzano Foppa headed that entity, and when businessmen were brought to the dock by the investigations of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) and the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) of the Attorney General’s Office (MP).
Meanwhile, the aspirants continue their campaigns:
Las carreteras conectan al país🛣️, mejorando el comercio, el turismo y el desarrollo nacional. Nosotros construiremos 20.000 kilómetros de carreteras asfaltadas, gratuitas, sin peajes y hasta el último rincón de Guatemala🇬🇹, generando además, un millón de empleos directos 👷🏼👨🏽🏭🚜; pic.twitter.com/hRQ6jwxxub
— Roberto Arzú (@robertoarzugg) April 21, 2023
Jalapa elige dignidad, aunque no quieren inscribir al binomio presidencial del MLP eso no nos quita el sueño, tenemos a los representantes através de Arturo Jiménez candidato alcalde, Nery Agustín distrital y Blanca Ajtun por el listado nacional. pic.twitter.com/ktedgbokfr
— MLP Guatemala (oficial) (@GtMlp) April 20, 2023
Los que me conocen saben que la única razón por la cual había posibilidad de que yo votara por la coalición de #FoppaXLaCiudad era porque @NinotchkaMR iba en el Concejo. Ahora ya no hay duda.
En esta cuenta somos fans de Nino y de Grupo Mojado 😎🤟🏼 pic.twitter.com/L7c8deWRfu
— María Renée Estrada (@mareslu_) April 19, 2023
El contrato de la autopista Palin- Escuintla vence el próximo 25 de abril, desde el 1 de Mayo ya no tendría que cobrarse ningún peaje.
El Ministerio de Comunicaciones a través de un Acuerdo Gubernativo trata de cobrar el peaje cuando la población ya paga sus impuestos. pic.twitter.com/RUad3Pxb94
— Aldo Dávila (@aldodavila_gt) April 18, 2023
What the polls say
MLP, Podemos, Vos, and Semilla/Winaq/URNG could have a good chance of wresting victory from the political establishment and the private sector. Although the results of the polls are not definitive, since the institutional and court responses on the participation of the excluded are still pending, they show that Sandra Torres of UNE and Zury Ríos of Valor currently leading.
An online poll published by TResearch on March 13 showed that the voting intention favors Ríos in first place, Torres in second, and Mulet in third.
A second Dzenterprises poll with data from TResearch and CID-Gallup, published on April 17, shows Ríos in first place (22%), Mulet in second (19%), and Torres in third (17.8%).
However, data and survey experts such as Juan Pablo Pira, analyst of the Association of Social Research and Studies (ASIES), and Carlos Mendoza, analyst of Diálogos Guatemala, stated in a recent interview that some surveys shown in social media are not legitimate because they are not transparent about the methodology used, such as details about who conducted it, dates conducted, how the sample was determined, the locations conducted, if there was representation by different regions, related costs, and other factors.
Pira said that pollsters take samples of 2,500 to 4,000 people, but samples significantly larger than this, for example, 35,000 people, generate distrust about whether the figure was inflated.
“It seems that they want to position candidacies, and that sets off alarms,” said Mendoza. “It seems that there is an attempt at disinformation.” He also warned that political parties make polls and usually bias the results to deceive their campaign financiers “because they do not want to bet on a losing horse.”
“Politicians believe that, if they are ahead in the polls, that gives them an advantage because people will seek to vote for the strongest candidate, but there is no scientific evidence of this,” explained Pira.
In 2021, the V-Dem Institute of the University of Gothenburg, in its annual report Autocratization Goes Viral, named Guatemala as one of the countries that made the transition from electoral democracy to “electoral autocracy,” which is characterized by governments attacking media and civil society and polarizing political opponents by spreading false information, which then undermines the legitimacy of the state. This is a symptom that has spread throughout Latin America, the Asia-Pacific, and Central and Eastern Europe.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
scorinocohttps://orinocotribune.com/author/sahelicot92/May 27, 2023
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