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In the first round of the Guatemalan elections, the null vote was the winner with 17.30% of the votes counted.

Guatemala: elections and dinosaurs

05 July, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

The great writer Augusto Monterroso, Honduran by birth and Guatemalan by choice, was a master of the very short story, and author of one of the most famous: The Dinosaur. The whole story is one line:

“When he woke up, the dinosaur was still there”.

The text allows and invites multiple interpretations. Although don Augusto could not guess it, perhaps he intuited that decades after its publication, he could describe the Guatemalan social and political situation quite clearly.

When, for the umpteenth time, a good part of Guatemalan society was beginning to give way to the hope of a change in the infuriating national reality. When the unthinkable irruption of the Semilla Movement towards the second round of elections moved the stage and allowed smiles on the chastened chapines’ faces, the puppeteers of power have taken care to remind us about the presence of the dinosaur, that heavy burden that refuses to retreat.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) convened the departmental electoral boards (JED) for the first week of July to hold second hearings to review the ballots of the elections held on June 25, according to what the Constitutional Court (CC) decided last Saturday. In turn, the CC made that decision considering the request of nine right-wing or extreme right-wing parties that requested that before awarding the positions the minutes of the first round voting should be reviewed again where deputies and departmental and municipal authorities were elected.

Perhaps in another political context, in another country, this resolution would not have raised so many alarms, but in Guatemala it would.

This is for two central reasons: firstly, because there are no precedents in the history of Guatemalan elections where the results are frozen by a court for failure to define the authorities who will lead the country between 2024 and 2028. Many experts have questioned the decision.

Secondly, because it is obvious that the results of the first round were unexpected and contrary to the expressed wishes and manipulations of the groups or sectors that have been leading the country for years, it is therefore difficult to imagine that they accept a final result contrary to their interests without doing everything possible to avoid it.

In its closing report for 2019, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala stated that:

The investigations have shown that there are “…illegal political-economic networks in various spheres of the State apparatus and around it, which have historically existed and that throughout more than 30 years of democratic transition have infiltrated the spaces of political power to introduce their agenda of legal and illegal interests, and turn the agenda of the State and the public interest into their own agenda, shaping political relations, the logic of political parties, forms of commercial relations and contracting with the government and the State itself.”

These groups that the CICIG calls Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatuses (CIACS). He describes them as criminal networks that commit multiple crimes such as bribery, fraud, embezzlement, embezzlement, influence peddling, among other illicit practices, appear linked to the actions of criminal networks entrenched in the State, whose members have accessed key positions within the public administration in order to interfere in management systems, redirecting them towards the satisfaction of particular interests.

Since 2016, the so-called Pact of the Corrupt, made up of politicians, businessmen, officials, military, among others, in addition to expelling the CICIG from the country, control not only everything that happens in the government and the legislature, but have managed to place in the main judicial positions, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the electoral system, people who are either members of the pact or are controlled by it.

As a result, many judges, prosecutors, former CICIG officials, journalists and civil society leaders have had to go into exile in the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica, while many others, including land defenders and indigenous authorities, are subjected to absurd criminal judicial processes.

It was in this context that the electoral process began, which was also the object of this persecution against everything that could affect, in one way or another, the interests of the hegemonic sector.

For this reason, the candidacy of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MPL), composed of Telma Cabrera (a social and indigenous leader who had a high vote in the previous commissions) and Jordán Rodas (a former Human Rights prosecutor), was prevented on the basis of unsubstantiated administrative arguments. Clearly, the MLP’s proposals, which included the holding of a National Constituent Assembly to constitute a Plurinational State and the nationalization of electricity, were seen as a threat to the groups of the Pact of the Corrupt.

But she was not the only candidate prevented from running. At least two more, from affluent social sectors, were also canceled, in a clear use of power to settle internal clashes between economic and business groups.

The three excluded candidates agreed to call for a null vote for the presidential elections, which, on Sunday, June 25, was the most voted option, exceeding 17% of the total votes cast.

A few days ago, an article was published in the New York Times newspaper where it was reported about alleged bribes about the members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Although this may not be true or impossible to prove, the reality is that most of the citizenry has many doubts about the impartiality, honesty and also technical ability of the people in charge of guiding the electoral process.

It is possible that this questioning attack of the electoral results will not pass to greater ones and that the process will continue towards the second round.

But what is certain is that new questions will continue to appear towards the second round candidacies, especially of the candidate Arevalo of the Semilla Movement. The final result will depend on many factors, not only on the sovereign will of the citizenry.

As Monterroso wrote, the dinosaur is still there.