Guatemala heads to the polls amidst electoral distrust


guatemala

Critical flaws in the manual vote system mar elections in Guatemala (Photo: http://www.elnuevoherald.com)

Violent elections without results. This is what Guatemala experienced after a “statistical tie” between the second and third presidential candidates prevented the High Electoral Court (TSE) from emitting results in order to clear doubts about who would be the contestants for the second round, scheduled for October 25.

This is the dismal panorama the world and Guatemala have seen on the wake of the September 6 general elections. A precarious electoral system held the country against the wall, as while TSE stated that there had been no fraud, the feeble manual vote system made it impossible to count the votes from a 100% of the poll stations.

179 precinct counts (that is, 0.91% of the 19,582 vote collection boards) kept the country waiting anxiously, as they were not tallied to yield definitive results of the elections for the presidency.

Rudy Pineda, president of the TSE, asked citizens to remain calm, but the Public Ministry admitted there were violent incidents that resulted in more than 500 arrests and 34 policemen injured during the electoral event, as well as street blockages and riots, and even the murder of a newly elected council member during the long wait for the final results.

The preliminary results give Jimmy Morales 23.85% of the votes, placing him at the top of the race, but the second place was narrowly contended by ex-First Lady Sandra Torres from UNE (19.76%), and businessman Manuel Baldizón from Líder (19.64%). The difference amounted to 5,958 votes, but Baldizón decided to withdraw from the election, as he regarded the electoral process as illegitimate.

Regardless of the fact that the TSE announced the winning candidates resulting from the final count, Guatemala’s electoral system was severely injured by Baldizón’s withdrawal. Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú criticized the election, stating that it “has no credibility, no legitimacy, and no suitability.”

Baldizón even suggested that “there are gross signs of fraud.” He mentioned the alleged existence of a “double computing system”, as although his party got nearly 50 deputies to the Congress and 140 out of 338 mayors’ posts, those votes did not reflect on the presidential election.

The country is currently trying to overcome the risk represented by electoral fraud, but soon enough it will have to face the weakness of its manual voting system. Automating the process, or at least key parts of the election, may allow Guatemala to eradicate its flaws and evils, and finally find the path toward electoral transparency.

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