Guatemala court moves to clear way for runoff vote, but doubts remain
Guatemala’s top electoral court on Wednesday cleared the way for a runoff presidential election next month, seeking to end a stretch of legal maneuvering after an inconclusive first round.
Still, a prosecutor appeared to throw a last-minute wrench in the works by announcing the suspension of the party of one of the candidates, raising new uncertainty in Guatemalan politics.
The runoff would feature two social democrats — Sandra Torres and Bernardo Arevalo — seeking to lead a Central American country beset by poverty, corruption and gang violence.
This means the country could soon have its first leftist president in more than a decade, if the runoff is held.
Torres and Arevalo finished first and second in the first round of voting on June 25 but neither won a majority.
The results were been held up in other courts amid allegations of irregularities, but they are now officially valid, said Mario Velazquez, secretary general of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
However, just hours earlier an anti-corruption prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche, announced that at his request a criminal court has disqualified Arevalo’s Semilla party, suspending its legal status.
Curruchiche cited what he called irregularities in the collection of signatures at the time of the party’s creation.
This would seemingly throw the runoff into doubt, again.
The president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Irma Palencia, said she was unaware of this decision by the prosecutor.
In an apparent dig at court interference in elections, Palencia added: “We know that elections are won at the ballot box, with the sacred suffrage of the people.”
The top US diplomat for Latin America, Brian Nichols, welcomed on Twitter the electoral court’s move certifying the first round results.
Nichols expressed concern over the move by the prosecutor, saying this amounted to “threats to Guatemala’s electoral democracy.”
He added: “Institutions must respect the will of voters.”
Torres is the ex-wife of former president Alvaro Colom and Arevalo is the son of reformist former president Juan Jose Arevalo.
In the first round voting, Torres won 15.86 percent of the vote and Arevalo garnered 11.77 percent, the highest totals among 22 candidates.
©️ Agence France-Presse