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Guatemala Election Day Summary

As part of a USAID/CEPPS initiative to prevent electoral violence, IRI’s Guatemala field office conducted an assessment mission during Guatemala’s general elections Sunday, September 6.

That day, yesterday, 5.3 million Guatemalans or 70.38 percent of registered voters exercised their right to suffrage. Some analysts predicted high levels of absenteeism because of the ongoing La Linea scandal and resignation of former President Otto Pérez Molina. In fact, it was the opposite, with turnout reaching levels previously unheard of.

Battling long lines and, in some parts, torrential rains, voters seemed to be speaking out against corruption, impunity and more of the same. People lined up early to choose among 23,497 candidates vying for 3,959 offices for president, vice president, mayors, city council representatives, congressional seats and delegates to the Central American Parliament. They did so peacefully, with the same determination and optimism that has been the modus operandi of demonstrators since April 2015. This past Sunday, five new municipalities also voted for the first time—Las Cruces, Petén; El Chal, Petén; La Blanca, San Marcos; San José La Maquina, Suchitepequez; and San Jorge, Zacapa.

Indeed, a season of firsts.  As reported earlier, citizens representing all sectors came together to demand the resignation of a president tainted by corruption days before the General Elections. Second, there was the swearing in of Alejandro Maldonado, a vice president who became president, all in single term. Third, an outsider, Jimmy Morales, of the Frente de Convergencia Nacional (National Convergence Front) secured his place on the ballot in a second round to be held on October 25 with 23.92 percent of the vote. Fourth, the leading contender, who had been campaigning since losing the last election, Manuel Baldizón of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Liberty or LIDER), is now vying for second place along with Sandra Torres of the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (National Unity of Hope or UNE) at 19.60 and 19.63 percent, respectively. Official results may take a few days to determine, especially if the losing party requests a recount. Since Guatemala’s transition to democracy in 1985, the loser of the previous election was virtually assured a victory during the next electoral process. No longer, it seems.

Regarding congressional races, the current tally suggests there will be 19 parties represented in the Guatemala’s unicameral congress with seven LIDER party lawmakers starting out facing charges for corruption. Even so, LIDER will remain the dominant party, followed by UNE, Todos (All) and Encuentro para Guatemala (Encounter for Guatemala). The final tally, including the number of women, is still undetermined. 

Though mostly peaceful, election day did have some problems. The Ministry of the Interior registered more than 1,200 citizen complaints. The Ministry identified 46 areas of conflict, mostly in the interior. Most accusations involved parties transporting militants from one city to another ostensibly to cast multiple ballots, inappropriate use of political propaganda, vote buying, proselytizing close to polling stations, and even burning ballot boxes. The fact that citizens felt confident in reaching out to the Ministry is a significant first.  So far, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal does not feel these anomalies will affect the outcome of the overall vote.

From what we saw in our assessment, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) ensured transparency and calm, providing election results in a timely, efficient and professional manner. Its seemingly steady hand reassured Guatemalans that their vote mattered. The eventual winner will face several challenges, including an ongoing political crisis, an empty treasury, high levels of crime, poverty, malnutrition, a divided Congress and pressure to deliver on short term results. It is quite evident that the next president will need to hear the voice of the people on corruption.  

Posted by

Tony Garrastazu

Resident Country Director, Central America