Guatemalan prosecutors press case against opposition party ahead of election

Guatemala City, Jul 20 (EFE).- For the second time in eight days, agents of the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office carried out a search Thursday at the seat of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) just a month before the second round of the presidential election.

The raid was connected to the corruption charges leveled by prosecutors against Semilla, a social-democratic party whose candidate beat expectations to qualify for next month’s runoff.

Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, 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.

Prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, sanctioned by the United States government last year for fabricating cases against former prosecutors who put officials behind bars for graft, accuses Semilla of accepting illegal campaign contributions and of falsifying signatures to get on the ballot.

He persuaded a judge to rule that Arevalo could not take part in the presidential runoff, but the Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest tribunal, quashed the ruling.

The AG Office has issued arrest warrants for two Semilla officials and refuses to allow the party’s lawyers to view the case file.

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.”

The judge who issued the original injunction excluding Semilla from the election also heard one of the cases against 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/dr

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