Jul 18, 2023 - World

Guatemalans rise up amid presidential election challenges

many protesters hold up signs and Guatemalan flags outside the attorney general's office in protest of a move against a party in the presidential election

Supporters of the political party Movimiento Semilla protest outside the attorney general's office in Guatemala City on July 13. Photo: Johan Ordóñez/AFP via Getty Images

Guatemalans have reacted to the legal drama that has embroiled the presidential elections by peacefully taking to the streets and engaging in the political process after years of disillusionment with the establishment.

Catch up fast: The country's Constitutional Court late last week blocked an attempt by the attorney general's office to annul the registration of presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo's Movimiento Semilla party. The attempt was largely seen as an overreach and resulted in large protests.

  • The attorney general's office, whose leaders are in a U.S. State Department list of undemocratic or corrupt actors in Central America, claimed it received evidence that the party falsified party members' signatures — an allegation Semilla denies.
  • The move came after several political parties challenged the results of the June 25 first-round vote, in which Arévalo, who campaigned on ending corruption, stunned many by coming in second place. The challenge led to a partial recount, but the results were officially certified last Wednesday.

What they're saying: Pamela Ruiz, Central American analyst for the nonpartisan think tank International Crisis Group, says the attorney general doesn't even have the power to suspend political parties and that the move is an example of the deterioration of the Guatemalan political system.

  • However, she says it's a positive sign that other institutions didn't play along with the attorney general's office and that it jolted people to "a level of peaceful mobilization that has been very different to the sort of passiveness seen from citizens in the last few years."
  • "This whole process is likely gonna stretch out like a marathon ... but Guatemalans are simply fed up. They want a change and they're voting for the change. And that needs to be respected."

Context: The AG's moves come as the current government of President Alejandro Giammattei has been accused of a record number of attacks against activists, journalists and independent judicial workers.

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