Exercising responsible citizenship

Samuel Alvarez Morales

The week before the presidential elections, Prensa Libre’s poll showed that Sandra Torres, UNE’s candidate, would reach the second round, and Guatemalans waited to see who she would face. Everyone thought it would be Edmond Mulet or perhaps Zury Ríos herself, but, surprisingly, it was Bernardo Arévalo from Movimiento Semilla.

This unexpected result can be explained by the errors committed by Manuel Villacorta, the barring of various candidates, the clear manipulation of the electoral process, and, above all, voters’ rejection of the establishment. These factors meant that the candidate with one of the least flashy campaigns finished second.

On the 25th June, Guatemalans went to the polls to decide the future of their country. A country with weak institutions, which the last few governments have tried to degrade further.

In the months leading up to the elections, the manipulation of the process became evident through the actions of the Supreme Electoral Court’s judges. They violated the country’s constitution by allowing Zury Ríos to be Valor’s presidential candidate and Romeo García to be UNE’s vice-presidential candidate. Both were strictly prohibited from participating: the former because she is the daughter of Ríos Montt, who took power in a coup, and the latter because, until the day before his inscription, he was a religious minister.

The manipulation of the process didn’t end there. We also saw that dozens of Congressional and mayoral candidates accused of drug-trafficking and other crimes were allowed to compete. Added to this, the TSE decided to bar three presidential hopefuls from the contest. They all appeared to be in the top five candidates: the MLP’s Thelma Cabrera, Podemos’ Roberto Arzú and Prosperidad Ciudadana’s

Although it is clear that Guatemala’s political culture is changing, we cannot forget that the real winner of these elections was the null vote. It received 17.39% of all ballots, an obvious sign of mistrust and discontent towards the traditional political class.

This is a figure that we should not ignore. On the contrary, the Guatemalan authorities as much as the political parties themselves should take note and ensure they bring about the necessary changes to secure democracy, with rulers that represent the population and not with rulers imposed by powerful groups that meet outside the country to negotiate its future.

Thousands of Guatemalans will doubtless be hopeful that the possible arrival of someone like Bernardo Arévalo to the presidency signals the end of conservative governments that have limited various fundamental freedoms. However, we should not forget that the real power will lie with Congress.

A congress that in the previous legislatures has dedicated itself to approving laws which go against human rights and increase impunity, and to loans that facilitate corruption. It has also excused itself from its obligation of choosing the Supreme and Appeals Courts.

The challenge of building the country we deserve is immense, and four years will not be enough to implement the necessary changes to guarantee the full development of the population. Whether Sandra Torres or Bernardo Arévalo wins, the winner will have a difficult task.

As far as Quetzaltenango’s municipal elections are concerned, its citizens decided to re-elect their current mayor, Juan Fernando López, an outcome which was expected. This was not the result of good work from the council. In reality, it had the fortune of executing projects delayed by previous administrations. Despite its reelection, the council will contain some opposition councilors, who, although inexperienced in public office, give the public hope of not having an authoritarian council which privileges certain interests. The civic committee that promoted them had worked for years as a social platform, which was well-regarded by the people.

Quetzaltenango is an important city for Guatemala’s economy, but the challenges it faces require a council with vision and capacity, conditions which are difficult to find in next year’s council.

Regardless of who has won the municipal elections and of who wins the presidency, it is the duty of citizens to continue supervising public officials and demanding that the authorities work with transparency to the benefit of dignified life, freedom, private property, the country’s economy and its citizens. Not everything is the responsibility of the state.

Samuel Alvarez Morales.

Political analyst, member of Visión Legislativa and founder of Voluntarios por Xela.