Guatemala voters voice uncertainty ahead of presidential run-off

Observers fear interference in the final leg of the presidential race, as prosecutors target one of the leading parties.

Bernardo Arevalo, right, greets supporters in the community of Santa Maria de Jesus during a campaign stop on July 16 [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Guatemala City, Guatemala – Campaigning is under way in Guatemala before the August 20 run-off election, which will see progressive candidate Bernardo Arevalo face off against the conservative Sandra Torres for the presidency.

But the race has been fraught with uncertainty ever since Arevalo advanced to the second round of voting.

He and his party, the Seed Movement, surpassed expectations in the June 25 general elections, securing one of two spots in the run-off with surprisingly robust support.

But that has made the party a target for scrutiny — and possible election interference.

Rival parties called for a review of the vote tallies, leading a court to suspend the June 25 election results until the assessment was complete.

When the review ultimately upheld Arevalo’s second-place finish, forces within the government also threatened to derail his candidacy.

Earlier this month, one of Guatemala’s top prosecutors successfully appealed to a court to suspend the Seed Movement’s legal recognition, citing irregularities in the signatures collected to form the party.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, the highest judicial authority in the country, ultimately reversed the decision, saying that the courts and public prosecutor’s office could not intervene and suspend a party during the electoral cycle.

But the public prosecutor’s office has proceeded to raid the offices of the Seed Movement, removing crates of documents marked as “evidence”.

Prosecutors also raided other election-related government bureaus, including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the National Citizen Registry, where documents related to party formation are held.

That these actions were led by officials previously accused of corruption has contributed to fears about election integrity. The United States has previously sanctioned Guatemalan Attorney General María Consuelo Porras for using her position “to protect her political allies and gain undue political favor”.

In Guatemala City on Tuesday, Al Jazeera spoke to residents about the current political crisis — and the uncertainty they are feeling in advance of the August 20 run-off.

A man in a grey T-shirt stands against a pink wall. A clothesline holds up strips of material for the piñatas.
Oscar Antonio Garcia, a 43-year-old piñata maker, stands in his shop in Guatemala City’s historic centre [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Oscar Antonio Garcia, 43, piñata maker who lives in Guatemala City

“The situation is bad. There is a lot of corruption.”

In response to whether he will be voting in the second round: “Truthfully, no. Because it’s just going to be the same again. The people who are in power right now are bad.

“What happens is that corruption comes from within. There is no trust. There is no trust in any [politician], because corruption comes from within.”

A woman in a yellow sleeveless T-shirt stands outside a shop in Guatemala City.
Irma Ixcaya, a 35-year-old student from San Pablo la Laguna, fears the investigation into the Seed Movement will sow confusion [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Irma Ixcaya, 35, student from San Pablo la Laguna, who lives in Guatemala City

“There is confusion. They are creating confusion. Because the truth is I don’t know if the crimes [the Seed Movement is accused of] are invented or if the person actually did it. I hope, as the law says, that no one is guilty after being proven otherwise. And why are they only investigating one side and not both?

“There is a lot of uncertainty over whether the elections are going to happen or if they aren’t going to happen. So yes, it is somewhat confusing, because what they are trying to do is remove someone so that person cannot participate, which they cannot do.”

A man in a white apron stirs a large metal pot filled with pork rinds in the doorway of a shop.
Edgar Ixquiak, a 62-year-old businessman, prepares pork rinds in his shop near Guatemala City’s historic centre [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Edgar Ixquiak, 62, businessman from Guatemala City

“It has always been bad here, but now it is worse, because there is no change in the [political] structure. Since I was a kid, I’ve lived in this situation.

“[These elections] are a farce.

“This year has been bad. I was at the point of closing two businesses because there was no way out. I was extorted, and then the economic situation got worse.”

A woman in a dotted patterned shirt sits in a shop with items for sale: glass bottles, plates, teacups, glass drink bottles and porcelain figurines.
Silvia de la Cruz, a 54-year-old antiques seller, considers the Seed Movement the ‘most viable option’ for voters [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Silvia de la Cruz, 54, antiques vendor from Guatemala City

“The truth is that I feel that impunity continues here in Guatemala, and the same group of people who manipulate [politics] to their convenience in the elections continue to do so. Really, what is happening is not democracy. They are violating the Constitution, the laws and our rights as citizens.

“I have to participate [in the second round of voting] because I do not want the same pact of corruption. We have to vote so that we can carry out the will of the people, so that democracy continues, because this is becoming a circle of people who are working only for themselves without benefit to the rest of the citizenry.

“The party that came in second place [the Seed Movement] is the most viable option for Guatemala, so that democracy continues and justice is done. Because we as a people cannot continue with so much corruption and so much violence.”

A woman in an embroidered top stands behind a table brimming with fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes and bananas. Behind her, garlic hangs from a wall.
Kristine Cutz, a 54-year-old fruit and vegetable vendor from San Juan Comalapa, believes the existing government fears a change in the status quo [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

Kristine Cutz, 54, fruit and vegetable vendor from San Juan Comalapa

“Those in power right now are only stealing everything and supporting the rich. Those who suffer are us, the poor.

“The [rich] don’t want someone new in power. They are using force so that one of their own has to stay in power, so that we continue in the same situation that we are in right now. And that’s why the people no longer want [the status quo]. We want a change because we are tired of so much robbery.

“We will see a change if [Arevalo] remains. We have to have hope. We need a change.”

Source: Al Jazeera