Guatemala’s Presidential Elections: Slow Road to Recovery

11.04.11

Guatemala’s Presidential Elections: Slow Road to Recovery

11.04.11
CSISCSIS

On September 11, Guatemalans voted to elect 158 members of Congress, mayors in all 333 municipalities, 20 members to the Central American Parliament and president and vice president. On November 6 they will vote in the presidential run-off election. Guatemala has a multi-party system. It is a presidential system elected by absolute majority. The Congress (unicameral) is elected through party list proportional representation. The newly-elected government will be inaugurated on January 14, 2012.

Following the first round of voting, two men are standing for the Presidency: the right-wing candidatess Otto Perez Molina (Partido Patriota, Patriotic Party) and Manuel Baldizon (Libertad Democratica Renovada, LIDR Party). The only left-wing and female candidate running for office was Rigoberta Menchu, the indigenous human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Molina won 36 per cent of the presidential vote and Baldizon 23 per cent in the first round, neither securing a majority. While two women, Roxana Baldetti (Partido Patriota, Patriotic Party) and Raquel Blandon (Libertad Democratica Renovada, LIDR Party) are standing for the Vice Presidency.

Perez Molina (Patriotic Party) is a retired Army General. He is running for the presidency for a second time, after losing to current President Alvaro Colom in the 2007 run-off election. His campaign is supported by many civil society and grassroots organisations. He is very popular in urban areas and has a stronghold in the capital, Guatemala City, and most highland areas. His campaign message has been about fighting crime and corruption while strengthening the State through rule of law. His is a skilled statesman with a strong will and an experienced team to help him run the country.

Manuel Baldizon (LIDR Party) is a lawyer and former member of Congress. He is the founder of the LIDR Party, which he began at a regional level in his hometown of Petén. His campaign platform is supported by local grassroots organisations in the north. He has effectively extended this outreach to western areas of Jutiapa, Jalapa and Zacapa, which were strongholds for other parties in the past. His party has one of the strongest blocs in Congress. The message of his campaign has been focused on social and economic issues, offering social programs, similar to those implemented by the current administration, additional labor bonuses and a decrease in taxes. He is also campaigning largely on issues of security, saying he favors the death penalty and promising to create a 25,000-strong national guard to control crime.

Roxana Baldetti (Patriotic Party) is one of two female vice presidential candidates. Baldetti, a journalist, is a founding member of the Patriot Party, along with Molina. She has been a congresswoman since 2004, and is known for being outspoken on anti-corruption and local governance issues. She has been the backbone of Molina’s presidential campaign, with strong leadership and influence on local leaders of the party. Raquel Blandon (LIDR Party) was the First Lady of Guatemala from 1986-1991, during the Presidency of Marco Vinicio Cerezo. A lawyer, she is a strong gender rights activist and was an outspoken university student rights advocate during the early stages of the armed conflict in Guatemala. She brings her government experience to the campaign and has contributed significantly to the party’s growth.

More than 7 million Guatemalans are registered and eligible to vote in the presidential run-off. The first round of elections had an unprecedented turnout of more than 5 million voters during the first round of elections on September 11. Votes are counted manually at each of the 16,668 polling stations across Guatemala. Vote counting in each polling station is witnessed by party representatives and local and international elections observers. Party representatives verify, witness and sign the tally sheets. This is Guatemala’s seventh election since the country returned to democracy in 1985, showing continued development and strengthening of democracy in the state.

The winner of the run-off will have to address many social and economic challenges, including all new security policies to be implemented in a country that has seen escalating crime rates and violence related to drug trafficking. The new president will have to, sooner rather than later, undertake the need for reforms to the Political Parties and Elections Law. Additionally, fiscal reforms are still pending discussion in Congress. The new Head of State will find a very balanced Congress, with no leading political party dominant. This puts him in the position of having to work closely with Congress in order to move a national agenda forward.

The conflicts and electoral violence observed around the first round of elections resulted in at least 35 people having been killed in campaign-related violence. The violence was seen in reaction to results in municipal elections; particularly local populations being unhappy with the re-election of mayors in some towns. This led the population to voice their discontent by retaining electoral staff, burning ballots, putting up roadblocks and damaging electoral centers, police and municipal infrastructure.

Molina has had a commanding lead since Sandra Torres, the former wife of outgoing President Alvaro Colom, was excluded from running for the presidency. Torres filed for divorce in March - a move critics said was to avoid a constitutional ban on close relatives of the president running for the post. But Guatemalan judges ruled last month that, despite her divorce, Torres’ candidacy still violated the constitution and she was therefore ineligible.

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