Guatemalan elections: Social Democrats win, progressive parties grow

Elections took place in Guatemala on June 16 with a few surprising results. The elections included the first round of presidential candidates as well as congressional and municipal candidates.

The second round of presidential elections will take place in August when the top two candidates face off. Pending final results, the runoff will be between Sandra Torres (National Unity of Hope, UNE) with 25.74 percent of the vote and Alejandro Giammattei (Vamos) with 13.89 percent. Edmond Mulet of the Humanist party, a candidate linked to both traditional politics and the United Nations (which do not always align in Guatemala), was in third place with 11.14 percent.

Thelma Cabrera (Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples, MLP) came in fourth place with 10.42 percent, significantly outperforming predictions. This result is a strong blow against the power of the oligarchy, which had denied that an Indigenous (Maya Mam) woman rooted in peasant struggles could present a serious political threat.

Of the remaining 15 candidates, five received between 4 percent and 6 percent of the vote and the remaining 10 received a total of 14 percent among them.

In a political system dominated by an entrenched oligarchy, there are very few possibilities of winning real change by electoral means. They are even less in a country with the high level of corruption that exists in Guatemala.

However, analyzing electoral results can give important insight into the level of political consciousness among the masses. In this case, the most important conclusion is that, despite not advancing to the runoff, the peasant and Indigenous movement represented by Thelma Cabrera and the MLP has established itself as a political force that cannot be ignored.

Congressional results

UNE will have 61 seats in the new legislature, short of the 81 needed for a majority but well ahead of any other party. The second largest party, consistent with the presidential results, was Vamos with 19 seats.

A coalition between UNE and various center-right and right-wing parties will likely be pursued in order to govern. This means that the already limited social-democratic policies promoted by UNE will probably be weakened.

The various progressive and anti-corruption parties won a total of 19 seats, with the biggest single party the Seed Movement with 8 seats. This party was recently formed to represent relatively progressive sectors of urban professionals.

In summary, the results mean traditional politicians continue to control the state institutions and the “Pact of the Corrupt” will remain in power, but now led by its social-democratic wing.

Both UNE and Vamos have stated that they will not renew the CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) mandate, which means the U.N.-backed commission that had carried out anti-corruption investigations will cease operation this fall. The progressive struggle against corruption will have to be carried out in the streets and in opposition to state power.

Fraud and abstentionism

Around noon on June 17, Thelma Cabrera publicly stated that she did not recognize the results of the election due to fraud originating with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). She called for mass mobilizations and for a transparent vote count, whose records would be available for review.

MLP’s statement claims: “On the national level, there is evidence of vote buying by the traditional parties, which was promptly reported to the TSE, which has not [been responded to] at this time.”

In several municipalities there were busing of voters by the traditional parties, irregularities in the vote count and violent disturbances related to ballot transportation. In Panzós, Alta Verapaz department, Alejandro Coc Poou died from gunshot wounds when he and other members of the community were attacked by UNE members while waiting for the results of the vote count. ( Most of these incidents have been linked to municipal elections.

If the TSE does not comply with the demands made by the MLP, it will be difficult to ascertain the existence and extent of electoral fraud. But what is very clear is the drop in participation in the elections, which fell from 70 percent in 2015 to 60 percent this year.

According to official figures released when 94 percent of the voting tables had been counted, 9 percent of the votes were blank, and another 4 percent were null. If the blank vote had been for a presidential candidate, it would have come in fifth.

The clashes between civilians and police, the reported irregularities and the high levels of abstentionism are evidence of the flawed character of the electoral process.

There are multiple reports of demonstrations and protesters blocking major roads in several departments and cities, including the capital, explicitly rejecting the results of the election. TSE maintains that no fraud occurred and is refusing to turn over the records.

Conclusions about the popular struggle

The first thing to note is that support for the far right, which has governed the country in recent years, seems to have been deflated. FCN-Nacion, the current president’s party formed by ex-military and big business interests, did not win even 5 percent of the presidential vote. PAN-Podemos, the other far-right party, believed that it would make the runoff, but came in fifth and only won 2 seats in Congress.

On the other hand, the center-right, mainly represented by Vamos and Unión del Cambio Nacionalista, UCN, which are now the second and third largest parties in Congress, made significant gains. This is despite the fact that UCN presidential candidate and leader Mario Estradawas was arrested in Miami on drug trafficking charges.

Without even accounting for the possibility of electoral fraud by the oligarchal parties, the fact that a Maya Mam woman, and even more so one whose roots are in the peasant struggle, won three departments and came in second in seven others is possibly the most important result.

This symbolic victory is the result of the growing strength of the peasant and Indigenous movement that refuses to make corrupt deals with traditional politicians and which responds to perceived fraud with mass mobilizations.

MLP was not the only progressive party, just the one which received the most presidential votes. Combining the results achieved by the five parties that can be characterized as progressive — MLP, Winaq, URNG Maiz, Libre and Convergencia — gives 19.56 percent of the presidential vote to progressive candidates. That’s enough to come in second and advance to the runoff.

Two important conclusions can be drawn. The first is that the progressive social movement is growing, and there is an opportunity to open a period of serious struggle. The second is that in order to win that struggle, these parties and the social movements they represent need to unite and present a single front against conservatism and neoliberalism.

The oligarchy is trembling at the rise of Thelma Cabrera and the movement she leads, but the fight to root out corruption and dismantle the traditional political structures is only beginning. Transformation of Guatemalan society won’t come from Congress or the Presidency but from popular organization. These results prove this consolidation is a real threat to the powers that be.

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