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Guatemala court suspends disqualification of Arévalo’s party

The highest judicial instance in Guatemala suspended on Thursday a judicial order that disqualified the Semilla party of the social democratic candidate Bernardo Arévalo and prevented it from contesting the presidential ballot on August 20.

Resolution from the Constitutional Court

A resolution of the Constitutional Court (CC) granted a provisional protection to Arévalo, which reversed the measure adopted on Wednesday by Judge Fredy Orellana that jeopardized the participation of the Semilla candidate in the ballot against former first lady Sandra Torres, the entity reported in a statement.

Official announcement of candidates

Shortly after the sentence, both candidates were made official for the second round by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), generating more uncertainty in the country. The sentence says that irregularities were found in the creation of the party. However, the president of the TSE, Irma Palencia, said that “the elections are being guaranteed (…) and we do not have any obstacles to carry out the second round on August 20.”

Reactions and concerns

The ruling sparked demonstrations in Guatemala and criticism from the United States, the Guatemalan business leadership, the Catholic Church, the European Union, the UN and Chile. Meanwhile, the Israeli embassy congratulated Torres and Arévalo for “the start of the second round of the presidential election and wishes success in the electoral process.”

“It is imperative to respect the decision of the highest electoral entity and the will of Guatemalans expressed at the polls” on June 25, in the first presidential round, declared the Coordinating Committee of Commercial, Industrial Associations and Finance (CACIF) in a statement.

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“We demand that the result of the elections be respected […] and that the second round be held on August 20” with Torres and Arévalo, indicated the Guatemalan Bishops’ Conference in a press release. The United States “is deeply concerned by the prosecution’s attempt to revoke the legal status of the Semilla party in full electoral process”, stated the US Department of State. The EU criticized prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, who asked the courts to disqualify Semilla, stating that “during the electoral process, it threatens one of the basic foundations of democracy, respect of the popular will expressed at the polls.” Meanwhile, a UN spokesman said that the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, “notes with concern the reports on the attempts to influence the second round of the elections and the growing tension that this is causing it”. Chile also called “to put an end to the judicialization of the elections” in Guatemala and asked “that the public powers guarantee the free exercise of suffrage on August 20”.

Criminal complaint against prosecutor

In addition to the appeal de Semilla before the Constitutional Court against the controversial decision of Judge Fredy Orellana, the TSE filed another appeal before the Supreme Court with the same purpose.

“When there is a convocation [a comicios] No political organization can be suspended or cancelled,” said the head of the TSE’s Citizens’ Registry (electoral roll), Ramiro Muñoz. “The ordinary judge in criminal matters does not have the powers or formal and material competence” in electoral matters, he added In addition, Arévalo went to the headquarters of the Public Ministry of the capital (MP, Prosecutor’s Office) to file a criminal complaint against Curruchiche. Arévalo specified that the complaint is for “prevaricato and other series of abuses that are being committed.”

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Sandra Torres announced that she will suspend her electoral campaign due to the crisis to compete on equal terms with Arévalo, after asking President Alejandro Giammattei to “show face” in the face of this “difficult situation” that the country is experiencing.

Issues with the democratic system

Experts, activists and Arévalo himself They had been warning since before the elections that the democratic system was navigating troubled waters in Guatemala, due to political control over the judiciary, processes of journalists, exclusion of presidential candidates, and persecution of prosecutors who fought corruption.

Guatemala is one of the countries most unequal in Latin America, according to the World Bank, with 10.3 million of its 17.6 million inhabitants below the poverty line and one in two children with chronic malnutrition, according to the UN. Poverty, criminal violence and corruption induce thousands of Guatemalans to emigrate to the United States each year. The election of a social democrat would constitute a break after three successive right-wing presidencies: Otto Pérez (2012-2015), Jimmy Morales (2016-2020) and the outgoing president Alejandro Giammattei, who must leave office in January 2024.

Judicial decision and raid

The judicial decision was given after the presentation of legal appeals by the parties that lost the first round, which delayed the proclamation of Torres and Arévalo as candidates to the ballot. In his crusade against Semilla, the prosecutor ordered the search of the headquarters of the Citizens’ Registry on Thursday. Curruchiche, sanctioned by Washington for persecuting former anti-corruption prosecutors, affirmed that the Arévalo party committed irregularities in the collection of signatures for its legalization. “There are indications that possibly more than 5,000 citizens would have been illegally adhered to the Seed Movement, through falsification of documents,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

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