Guatemalan Elections: A comedy or a tragedy?
By Jackie McVicar, BTS Staff
Tatamagouche, NS

Guatemalan Elections: A comedy or a tragedy?

(See our previous post: Guatemalan Elections Go Ahead Amidst Corruption Scandal)

Guatemalans marching down 6th Avenue towards the city's Central Plaza.

Guatemalans marching down 6th Avenue towards the city’s Central Plaza.

Yesterday, Guatemalans took to the streets to vote for their new president. Despite wide-spread calls to suspend the general elections given the current political crisis, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) refused to put them off. Jimmy Morales from the military-aligned FCN (Front for National Convergence) went ahead with only 24% of the vote. Five percent left their ballots blank and 4% nullified their vote, showing that there was wide division within the electorate. Turnout rate is unconfirmed but is suggested to have hovered around 50%, down significantly from the previous elections where 70% of registered voters came out. Because Morales didn’t get the required 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off vote at the end of October, with Manuel Baldizon from the Lider Party as the other name on the ballot (*amendment: Sandra Torres of the UNE party ended up in second place and Baldizon in third).

Before running for President, Jimmy Morales was better known as actor and comedian, famous for a Sunday night programs on Guatemala’s channel 7. His connection to the Guatemalan military and the Foundation Against Terrorism has been reported. The party itself was created by military personnel, including Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who is also a founder of the Association of Military Veterans of Guatemala (AVEMILGUA). Many members of the FCN inner circle were also Patriot Party – former President Otto Perez Molina’s party – supporters. That said, according to El Observador, they also have their hands in the UNE party, Lider and FRG. Some have been advising Guatemalan politicians since the 1980s.

According to El Observador, founding members of the FCN were stationed in the Ixil region of Guatemala in 1981-1982, when dozens of massacres against indigenous Maya Ixils were ordered by the de facto government during the country’s bloody genocide. Ovalle Maldonado was later stationed in Operations Command at the Coban military base[1] in 1983. In 2012, mass exhumations found hundreds of bodies in a clandestine grave at the base.

But the military connection isn’t what Jimmy Morales was promoting during his campaign. He was branded the “Anti-Politician” after the La Linea customs fraud scam was unveiled by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in April. Linking politicians and military with the scam that saw tens of millions of dollars stolen, Guatemalans were tired of career politicians. Manuel Baldizon from the Lider Party was slated to win hands down, but the play on his slogan “It’s your turn” (Te Toca) was appropriated by the masses during the marches that have erupted to the streets since April and the hashtag #NoTeToca (#It’sNotYourTurn) was born. Baldizon, who has been accused of drug trafficking and corruption, came in second in the 2011 elections against Otto Perez Molina.

In a week that saw Otto Perez Molina step down and face an arraignment hearing for his role in the customs graft La Linea, Guatemalans consistently demanded that elections be delayed. The problem was there were no good candidates at the forefront of this election.  The other problem is that Guatemala’s history is entrenched in the military. When people called for the elections to be postponed, they said it was because the conditions didn’t exist for them to go ahead. People need time to rebuild democracy in Guatemala; it’s been over sixty years since a People’s president was elected.

Like the 2009 elections in Honduras that ultimately served to legitimize the coup d’état a few months earlier, Guatemala’s 2015 elections show us that a vote can’t reflect the will of the people for change. When the military’s the only option, entangled through its institutions, political parties and memory, where else do you turn?

[1] Today, the Coban military base has been renamed the Regional Training Command for Peacekeeping Operations, which the Government of Canada, through the Department of National Defense, supports through training courses and equipment purchasing.