Guatemalan party: Bid to exclude us from ballot a “technical coup”

Guatemala City, Jul 21 (EFE).- Guatemala’s center-left Semilla party said Friday that prosecutors’ efforts to prevent their candidate from taking part in the Aug. 20 presidential runoff amounts to a “technical coup d’etat.”

“The Attorney General’s Office is acting outside the constitutional legal framework,” Semilla’s lawyer, Juan Guerrero, told reporters as AG Office agents searched the party’s headquarters in Guatemala City.

He likened the actions of the AG Office and its allies in the judiciary to then-President Jorge Serrano’s unsuccessful attempt in 1993 to suspend the constitution and shut down Congress and the Supreme Court.

Guerrero said that he will seek the dismissal of prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche and Judge Fredy Orellana, who are spearheading the legal offensive aimed at keeping Semilla candidate Bernardo Arevalo de Leon off the ballot next month.

Arevalo, a 64-year-old lawmaker who once served as deputy foreign minister, finished second in the first round of voting on June 25, trailing former first lady Sandra Torres of the center-right UNE.

The standard-bearer of the ruling right-wing Vamos party, attorney Manuel Conde Orellana, was third, 200,000 votes behind Arevalo.

Semilla’s attorneys argue that Orellana should not have authorized the search of the party headquarters nor issued arrest warrants for party officials once the Constitutional Court quashed the judge’s July 12 ruling barring Arevalo from the runoff.

“We are experiencing a political persecution by the corrupt minority that knows it is losing power and want to derail the electoral process,” Arevalo said Friday in a social media post.

The Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest tribunal, reaffirmed Friday that the second round must go forward with Torres and Arevalo on the ballot.

That statement came hours after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) asked the Constitutional Court for an injunction to stop the AG Office and eight senior officials – including the chief justice of the Supreme Court – from obstructing the TSE’s work.

The TSE sought judicial relief after the AG Office carried out a second search of the electoral body’s headquarters.

The attempt to exclude Semilla conforms to a pattern of heavy-handed interference in the electoral process by the administration of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, who cannot seek re-election due to the constitution’s one-term limit.

Before voters went to the polls last month, authorities barred three presidential hopefuls – including the ostensible favorite – from the contest based on dubious technicalities.

The percentage of null or voided ballots, 17.3 percent, cast on June 25 exceeded the vote for top finisher Torres.

Vamos and other traditional parties reacted to the preliminary results by persuading the Constitutional Court to freeze the tabulation of the vote on July 1, which delayed the certification until July 13, when the TSE formally designated Torres and Arevalo as the candidates in the presidential runoff.

Semilla grew out of large anti-corruption demonstrations in 2015 and Arevalo, the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, Juan Jose Arevalo (1904-1990), said that his surprising showing in the election “awakened the fear of the corrupt.”

Both Curruchiche and Orellana are involved in the prosecution of award-winning journalist Jose Ruben Zamora Marroquin, who has been behind bars since July 29, 2022, five days after his newspaper published a report about corruption in the Giammattei administration.

EFE dte-jcm/dr

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