Guatemala’s top court overturns ban on presidential candidate

Guatemala City, Jul 13 (EFE).- The Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest tribunal, quashed on Thursday a ruling by a lower court blocking one of the two contenders from taking part in next month’s presidential runoff.

The judges granted a motion filed by attorneys for the social-democratic Semilla party, whose candidate, lawmaker Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, finished second in the first round of voting on June 25.

In a statement referring to “the threat that looms over the electoral process,” the Constitutional Court said in a statement that the investigation of Semilla by the Attorney General’s Office “does not suspend” the party’s participation in the Aug. 20 runoff.

Minutes before the high court ruled, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) reiterated that it would not heed the order from a lower court to exclude Arevalo from the second round, where he will face former first lady Sandra Torres.

The drama began late Wednesday, when the AG Office said that the order barring Arevalo’s 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.

Following the AG Office’s announcement, the TSA certified the results of the first round of voting and named Torres and Arevalo as the contenders in the runoff.

In an apparent reprisal, agents from the AG Office carried out a search Thursday morning at the seat of the TSE in Guatemala City.

The attempt to exclude Semilla was just the latest example 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 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, who shocked Guatemala’s elite with his second-place finish after running eighth in pre-election 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 until Wednesday.

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 the corruption of Giammattei and his inner circle.

Arevalo, 64, said Thursday before the Constitutional Court ruling that he was 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.

EFE jcm/dr

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