An inclusive reform? Analysis of the Law of Elections and Political Parties

By Dr. Walter Hillermann – Professor of economics and consultant for community development projects for more than 30 years – November 2015

Guatemala’s democracy is indirect, operating through elected representatives to whom the people delegate power. We hope that our representatives make the best decisions for the common good. But the reality is disappointing. Our trust falls dramatically shortly after new authorities come into power. The graph on page 27 shows the level of confidence in successive governments.

The vertical lines indicate the end of each administration. The graph shows that there is a structural crisis affecting the State, and also the country’s model of “democracy.”

Democracy, to be called by that name, must be inclusive and promote the proactive participation of citizens. It is not just the vote. Nor should it be based on the idea of “freedom of expression” exercised before a group of the deaf who from the Congress of the “Republic” wield an almost despotic power, shown, for example, in the June 2014 adoption of the “Monsanto Law,” which was later repealed. This revealed what Chamalé Patzán called a “pernicious practice of legislative secrecy.” (Read about the “Monsanto Law” and its repeal at

We don’t believe in a democracy that functions like a horse race, that approves laws of convenience, that to top it off is organized by a group of public and private actors who, like corrupt gamblers, sell our country to dark figures who often come from beyond the Guatemalan border.

In less developed countries, there is no inclusion of citizens in political and economic processes. The powerful exclude the population from the discussion of public affairs. We therefore propose that the reform of the Law for Elections and Political Parties (LEPP) be an inclusive process.

The reform of the LEPP can be inclusive if members of Congress (or their advisors) assume their true role of representatives of the people, and properly consult with civil society groups in their respective departments, and through this consultation obtain proposals in a participatory and inclusive manner. Among those civil society groups there are certainly people who can be delegated to monitor the incorporation of the suggestions into discussions in Congress’ public plenary session, which in a way is a kind of social audit. We know that is not the current process and its realization may seem impossible. But in politics much of what seemed impossible yesterday, today is reality.

Why hasn´t Congress tried to reform the law with the participation of the people? For two reasons: the lack of transparency with which powerful public and private actors negotiate proposed bills, and because we have been sold the false idea that our maximum civic aspiration should be simple participation in elections every four years through the vote.

We understand that as a society we have the right and the obligation to be proactive. Therefore, let’s dare to propose some amendments to the current LEPP so they can be discussed:

1. Eliminate consecutive and unlimited reelection in local governments and councils.

2. Restrict the role of major campaign funders. The elimination of private funding would be an improvement, because private funding means the purchase of the will of public officials. Since Guatemala was a Spanish Colony, whoever had money could petition the King of Spain to sell them a certain position and with it further their own interests and those of their class. This caused a profound rift in the population and the country to become terribly unequal, one of the most unequal in the world. On the other hand, public financing of campaigns can help if it evens the playing field for all candidates.

3. Eliminate the tilt in the scales in favor of larger parties that eventually attain a higher proportion of elected officials and obtain funding from suspicious sources.

4. Establish a staggered schedule for congressional elections Every four years there is an almost total replacement of the executive branch and a large change among members of Congress. This is traumatic because it means undoing policies and plans, and starting with a new review of bills by a new Congress, etc. Partly because of this, it is said that in Guatemala there is no state policy, just current administration policy.

5. Eliminate the pressure on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) from Congress around how it allocates its resources. Provide the TSE ample time to train and organize qualified staff to monitor the electoral process.

6. Along with sanctions and punishments, introduce incentives for good practice for political parties, like public recognition in public and private media.

7. Give the TSE the teeth to exercise its constitutional authority. And give teeth to the other supervisory bodies established by law to punish public and private violators.

8. Increase investigation of temporary elected authorities, especially at the local level.

9. Guarantee democratization within political parties in order to eliminate “caudillismo,” or dictatorial practices, and monitor the democratic proposal and election of candidates by secret ballot.

10. Introduce the requirement to provide a legal clearance granted by the courts to qualify for elected office. Establish a clearance method for political organizations that takes into account existing sanctions imposed by the TSE.

11. Eliminate the abuse of legal resources in order to avoid TSE sanctions through the excessive use of, for example, the Law of Appeal, Habeas Corpus, and Constitutionality.

12. Punish electoral law violators in a timely manner and within a given election cycle.

13. Prohibit the nomination of family members to certain posts.

14. Remove the distinction between election campaigns and outreach campaigns. Prohibit early campaigns that are supposedly to encourage people to affiliate themselves as party members but actually serve as publicity for specific campaigns before candidates are legally allowed to campaign. The TSE officially opened the 2015 election cycle on May 3rd, but campaigns were being run long before, in violation of the current LEPP.

15. Give weight to the null vote. Though it has been demonized, the null vote has an important function. In Ipala, Chiquimula, for example, the candidates for mayor running against Esduin Javier, aka “Tres Quiebres,” a true local gangster, withdrew from the election under suspicious circumstances. The population only had one candidate. If the null vote were binding, the people would have the power not to elect corrupt candidates.

16. Analyze the participation of civic committees in nominating candidates for Congress. Review the impositions on civic committees in comparison with those of political parties. Include investigations of campaign finance in local campaigns.

17. Constant resolution of doubts or appeals filed by individual citizens.

18. Explicitly prohibit the painting of stones, rocks, walls, and roads. And ideally, completely restrict billboards, especially due to the enormous visual and environmental contamination they cause and because they are an obvious psychological aggression against the population.

19. Severely punish any hint of coercion, oppression, and deceit, including exchanges or purchases, that encourages people to vote for certain candidates.

20. Strictly regulate the practice of changing parties, especially of members who have not emerged from a process of political party development but rather have bought their candidacy.

Finally, we manifest our dissatisfaction with the model of “democracy” in Guatemala with the image on the opposite page. It represents our vow to reform the Law for Elections and Political Parties. The white and gray hands are the international symbol of inclusion. Thanks to Paola and Guillermo for the design.

Let’s demand inclusion!