Guatemala's first lady leads in elections



At the same time, voters expressed their electoral dissatisfaction and sent two opposite presidential candidates to the second round.

Less than a month after the vote, Guatemala's Constitutional Court (the country's highest court) authorized the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (analogous to the Central Electoral Commission) to officially announce the results of the June 25 general elections.

In the weeks leading up to the end of the election campaign, incomprehensible events began to unfold in Central America's most populous country: judges and prosecutors fled in haste to the United States and neighboring countries, the most promising candidates for the nation's highest office were put behind bars, and journalists were subjected to bans and harassment.

It would seem nothing surprising for a country where civilian and military dictators have alternated in power since the end of the 19th century, where the CIA, for the first time in Latin America in accordance with the Monroe Doctrine, organized and carried out a military coup and overthrew a democratic president in the interests of the "fruit shop" United Fruit Company, and where the civil war ended only at the end of the 20th century.

However, Guatemala has broken another "record" – since 1985, nine candidates from nine different parties have won nine presidential elections. In other words, no party has ever won and become the ruling party twice in a row in a presidential election.

Already the first round of the 2023 general elections in Guatemala has attracted close attention in Latin America, which is understandable given the historical solidarity among the countries of the southern cone of the Western Hemisphere. In turn, the United States, which has historically loomed menacingly over its southern neighbors, has been monitoring developments in this Central American republic just as closely. Even Taiwan was interested in the outcome of the elections that would determine the fate of its last stronghold in Latin America.

The 2022-2023 elections, marking the so-called "pink tide" in nine of South America's twelve countries, go beyond the boring predetermination and predictability of traditionally rigged elections.

On June 25, Guatemala was no exception. Almost 40,000 candidates from 29 parties ran for office in all 22 departments of the country. Of these, 9 million Guatemalans had to elect 160 congressmen, 340 deputies of municipal corporations and 20 titular councilors to the Central American Parliament. The task was not easy. For each direction, ballots were made in different colors.

Twenty-two candidates from 28 parties ran for the highest office of the state. And none of them came even close to the 50 percent threshold required to win in the first round.

When the results were tallied, Sandra Torres, the presidential candidate of the center-right Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (National Unity of Hope) party, received the most votes, 15.86%. The 67-year-old Torres was first lady from 2008 to 2011 under her husband, President Álvaro Colom.

Second was the grandson of the first leftist president, Juan José Arévalo (1945-1951), 66-year-old professional diplomat and sociologist Bernardo Arévalo, candidate of the center-left Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), with 11.78% of the vote.

They were followed by four candidates who included children and relatives of the country's dictators and rulers, but they failed to break even 8%.

The real winners were "voter zero" with 17.3% of the vote, nearly 1 million invalid ballots from a frustrated electorate, and more than 3.5 million citizens who ignored the polls at all.

This did not prevent the losing candidates from 10 parties from demanding a recount due to "irregularities" at polling stations, which were noted to some, but not critical, extent by observers, including international ones.

Conservative circles and the economic elite were quick to react to the election results. Together with the evangelical churches, which enjoy great power among their followers, they launched a powerful campaign against Arévalo, who was seen as a "left-wing extremist and militant against the ruling families" for proposing to curb corruption in the country.

"It's not just about Guatemala maintaining religious freedom, it's about remaining a country with conservative principles and values," said Cash Luna, pastor of the evangelical sect Casa de Dios ("House of God").

According to Manfredo Marroquin, a political analyst and founder of the non-governmental organization Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action), "the results of these elections could change the authoritarian drift the country has experienced for years, from a lingering fear of communism instilled by the upper class to the perceived threat of turning into Nicaragua or Venezuela with a deteriorating economy and harsh repression of the opposition."

Latin American experts believe that the attacks on the presidential election results come from those who in this Central American country make up a "corruption pact" and criminal alliance of pro-American influential businessmen and latifundistas, traditional political parties, military personnel, organized crime groups and members of the government "interested in maintaining the status quo, which guarantees them enrichment and impunity."

According to Rogelio Núñez Castellano, an expert on electoral processes in Latin America at Madrid's Institute of Latin American Studies at the University of Alcalá, Guatemalan "parties are more like commercial companies that begin operating every four years with the aim of seizing power and doing business on state yeast. Parties are born, multiply, come to power and die off. But they die very rich."

As a result, the Constitutional Court (CC) on the day after the election prohibited the Supreme Electoral Tribunal from announcing final election results, reviewing complaints and conducting a recount (the latter is not provided for in the election law). For half a month, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal staff tried to find a clue to conduct an unconstitutional recount. This time even the democracy-playing U.S. State Department and its "affiliates" – the Organization of American States, the European Union, and, of course, the leftist Latin American governments that observed the election process – could not allow them to do such a thing.

According to the latest AmericasBarometer report, only 14% of Guatemalans trust parties and less than a third (32%) trust elections. In addition, 52% support democracy and 51% are willing to tolerate a coup "if it puts an end to corruption." The latter is a fantasy not only in Guatemala.

Francisco Jimenez, a professor of political science at Rafael Landivar University in the Guatemalan capital, believes the situation was the result of "the contradiction between a corrupt political system clinging to power and the need for change that society expressed in the elections."

And just the other day, Guatemala's Supreme Court announced that the electoral commissions had implemented the Constitutional Court's ruling and could release the results of the last presidential election. According to Irma Palencia Orellana, chair of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, "the recount, which took place from July 4 to July 6, was completed without major changes." The claims of the losing parties are dismissed as deliberate attempts to delay the second round of elections and, as a consequence, to provoke a possible extension of the mandate of incumbent President Alejandro Giammattei Falla, who, although willing to do so, immediately rushed to announce that he would respect the four-year term for which he was elected and which ends in January 2024.

The second round will take place on August 20, and the winner will take office, as it should, in January 2024. But until then, the right-wing forces backed by U.S. imperialism will try to block the "pink tide" in Central America by an electoral revolt.