By Richard Brown – EM editor – November 2015
Entertainer Jimmy Morales of the conservative National Convergence Party (FNC) won the presidency in a relatively peaceful election with 67.44% of the vote in the head-to-head second round against Sandra Torres of the left-leaning party National Unity of Hope (UNE). Morales received 2,751,000 votes, which represented 36% of registered voters. 44% of registered voters abstained from voting in the second round of the election, over 1.1 million more than sat out the first round. In the first round, over 70% of registered voters cast ballots, the highest percentage since democracy was restored in Guatemala 30 years ago. Morales’ campaign spent a relatively small sum of around Q22 million ($2.86 million).
The 46-year-old President Elect reiterated after his victory that the central promises of his administration are medicine in hospitals, quality school days, and zero tolerance for corruption. His campaign ran on a slogan of “Not corrupt, not a thief,” which reflects the fact that he had more success focusing on what he is not, rather than what he is. He has never held public office, though he lost a race for mayor in 2011 and, during his decades-long television and film career as a comedic actor, he once played a bumbling everyman who saves the President’s life and is then elected President in the film El Presidente de a Sombrero. He was the only political outsider in the race who was able to capitalize on the popular anti-establishment outrage that followed the corruption scandals that deposed and jailed former president Otto Pérez Molina and former vice president Roxana Baldetti.
His campaign, however, never explained how it would achieve the goals laid out in its platform, articulated in a document of five pages called “20/20 Vision,” nor how it would finance its programs. The nonpartisan Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (ICEFI) wrote in its analysis of Morales’ platform, “Common sense suggests that if a presidential candidate is experiencing a meteoric rise in the polls… he should at least have a solid and technically credible platform. Jimmy Morales and the National Convergence Front party are the exception.” The five-page document and the more detailed plan it cites, National Plan K’atun 2032, are “fiscally unviable without profound, long-term fiscal reform. FCN doesn’t set any goals, doesn’t estimate any costs, and doesn’t identify sources of funding that would allow it to execute its platform. ICEFI believes that these omissions require FCN’s plan to be viewed as perilously close to demagogy and without the technical viability that would make it credible.”
His economic platform focuses on job creation through funding for micro, small, and mid-sized businesses and other social programs in contrast to other conservative parties like the Patriot Party and Líder that advocate tax breaks and other laissez-faire incentives. His platform gives no indication of where funding will come from. According to ICEFI, Morales has been careful not to address exactly how he plans to create growth, his stance on mining and community referendums on megaprojects, and his positions on infrastructure investment and environmental protections.
On social spending, Morales declared the public health system in crisis. ICEFI applauded this decision, citing statistics that imply that the public health system is equipped to deliver reasonable care to a population the size of Guatemala’s circa 1955. But Morales has neither set health goals, crafted strategy, nor defined new roles for the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS) or the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS). In terms of public education, meanwhile, civil society has welcomed Morales’ focus on improving the system, but in his plans, as ICEFI reports, “he makes no mention of how he plans to achieve this, omitting the cost of the effort and whether reconstruction projects will be taken on by the central government or city governments.” Further, his platform proposes creating programs that already exist, and “some education proposals lack economic and strategic sense, like the idea of giving smartphones to students. This reveals a set of priorities that lacks seriousness.”
The heart of Morales’ campaign was his anti-corruption stance. His proposals, however, lack specific goals and do not include ways to measure policy successes. They center around reforming the judicial system to raise budgets, reforming the constitution, passing aggressive legislature, and conducting audits. ICEFI observes, “Although all of these are appropriate measures, they do not correspond to the executive branch, and further their results would only be seen after his term of four years expires, which makes them uncredible. ICEFI laments that the proposals omit topics like institutional transparency and the necessity of a national policy of transparency and anti-corruption measures that actually are within the domain of the executive.”
His legislative plans are complicated by the fact that FCN won only 11 seats in the 158-member Congress. The Patriot Party of the jailed former president won 18 seats, while Todos won 16 seats, UNE won 33 seats, and Líder of surprise presidential candidate flop Manuel Baldizón won 46 seats. FCN’s candidates for Congress received only around 401,000 votes in the first round, while Morales received over three times that number. The party may have been hurt by its supposed affiliation with the military hardliners who founded the party in 2008, several of whom have been accused by civil society for involvement in the genocide of the 1980s and war crimes and disappearances that occurred through the mid-90s.
For example, party founder Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado was elected to Congress this year on the FCN ticket. The International Justice Monitor reported that in 1981-82, he was an operations officer in the Ixil Special Task Force during the year that the unit was tied to 77 documented massacres. He was later Chief of Operations (S3) in Cobán in 1983, which may connect him to recent discoveries by the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG): hundreds of bodies in dozens of clandestine graves on the site of a former Cobán military base. FAFG has identified over 70 victims through DNA testing, and most of them disappeared between 1981 and 1983. Morales also stated that he might give the cabinet post of interior minister to César Cabrera Mejia, who, according to declassified US intelligence documents in the National Security Archive, was an intelligence chief in Cobán in 1982 and 1983. The other intelligence chief was Luis Felipe Mirando Trejo, another FCN founder. José Luis Quilo Ayuso, a third FCN founder and financial supporter, was chief of the military’s Psychological Operations department in 1982. Morales has stated that he does not believe that genocide occurred in Guatemala.