Guatemala’s presidential election was thrown into turmoil Wednesday night after a senior prosecutor moved to suspend the party of an emerging anti-corruption candidate, threatening his candidacy to run on the ballot and potentially dealing a major blow to the country’s already frayed democracy.
The move could prevent Bernardo Arévalo, a lawyer who rocked Guatemala’s political class in June with a surprise that propelled him into the August 20 runoff, from competing against former first lady Sandra Torres.
Rafael Curruchiche, the prosecutor who mounted the case to suspend the party, was himself listed by the United States as a corrupt Central American official for obstructing a corruption investigation.
The development places even greater stress on Guatemala’s political system, after the exclusion of several high-level presidential candidates who were seen as a threat to the political and economic establishment, attacks on press freedom and the forced exile of dozens of prosecutors and judges focused on fighting corruption.
“They are stealing the election in broad daylight, using just one of the institutions that is supposed to protect us,” Gustavo Marroquín, history professor and columnist, She said on Twitter.
The prosecutor’s move fueled confusion and anger in the Guatemalan capital, where hundreds gathered in protest on Wednesday shortly after Mr. Curruchiche’s announcement. The prosecutor took the action as Guatemala’s electoral authority was preparing to officially reject attempts to delay the runoff, allowing the vote to proceed as scheduled.
When asked by reporters about the prosecutor’s move against Arévalo’s party, Irma Elizabeth Palencia, leader of the electoral authority, said: “It’s definitely something that worries us.”
Brian Nichols, the top State Department official for the Western Hemisphere, She said on Twitter that the US government was “deeply concerned” about what it described as “threats to Guatemala’s electoral democracy” by Curruchiche. “Institutions must respect the will of voters,” Nichols added.
Arévalo’s party can appeal the ruling, setting the stage for a legal battle and potentially sending the matter to Guatemala’s highest constitutional court.
Mr Curruchiche said the case against Mr Arévalo’s party, called Semilla, or Seme, involved claims that he used fraudulent signatures to qualify as a political party. After his office reviewed the case, a criminal judge ordered the suspension of Semilla’s registration, which could effectively bar the party, and Mr. Arévalo, from competing on the ballot.
Speaking to CNN en Español, Arévalo said he would proceed with his candidacy, arguing that under Guatemalan law, political parties cannot be suspended during an electoral process (the first round of voting took place on June 25 and the runoff is scheduled for August 18). winds).
“The powerful no longer want the people to freely decide their own future, but we will defeat them,” added Arévalo She said on Twitter Wednesday night.
Legal experts have contested the move by Curruchiche, an ally of the outgoing president, Alejandro Giammattei. Edgar Ortiz Romero, a constitutional law expert, said the move was “absolutely illegal” as a criminal judge cannot suspend a party’s registration under Guatemala’s electoral laws.
“This places us in the sad group of countries with advanced authoritarian characteristics where the legal system is used to attack opponents,” said Ortiz Romero.
Independent watchdog group Mirador Electoral said in a statement that the suspension “attempts to consummate an electoral coup equivalent to a coup”.