Guatemalan prosecutors target election court

Guatemala City, Jul 13 (EFE).- Agents from the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office descended Thursday on the seat of the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) after that court overrode a judge’s decision to block one of the two contenders from taking part in next month’s presidential runoff.

The TSE confirmed Wednesday that lawmaker Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, who finished second in the first round of balloting on June 25, will face former first lady Sandra Torres in the second round on Aug. 20.

That announcement came just minutes after the AG Office said that a judge’s order barring Arevalo’s social-democratic Semilla party from the contest was legal and binding on the TSE.

Prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, sanctioned by the United States government last year for allegedly 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.

The move to exclude Semilla is just the latest example of interference in the electoral process by the administration of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, barred from re-election by the constitutional one-term limit.

In the months leading up to the June 25 vote, 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 last month exceeded the vote for top finisher Torres, running on the ticket of the center-right UNE.

The standard-bearer of Giammattei’s Vamos party, attorney Manuel Conde Orellana, finished third, 200,000 votes behind Arevalo, the son of former President Juan Jose Arevalo.

Arevalo shocked Guatemala’s elite with his second-place finish after running eighth in the opinion polls.

Semilla grew out of large anti-corruption demonstrations in 2015 and Arevalo, who was Guatemala’s deputy foreign minister in the mid-1990s, said that his surprising showing in the election “awakened the fear of the corrupt.”

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 of the official final count until Wednesday.

The attempt to bar Semilla from the second round drew condemnation Wednesday from the US government and civic groups in Guatemala.

The court that issued the injunction excluding Semilla 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 involving Giammattei and his inner circle.

Arevalo, 64, said Thursday that he is preparing to battle Torres in the runoff.

“We are in the electoral contest. We continue to move forward and we won’t allow ourselves to be distracted by these illegal acts on the part of this corrupt group,” he told a press conference in Guatemala City.

“According to Article 92 of the Law of Elections and Political Parties, a party cannot be suspended during the lapse that exists between the opening of the elections and their conclusion,” Arevalo said.



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