What next for Guatemala after latest political turmoil? Experts weigh in

Al Jazeera speaks to political analysts and other experts about political developments after Guatemala’s election.

Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arevalo
Guatemalan electoral officials this week suspended President-elect Bernardo Arevalo's Seed Movement party just hours after Arevalo's election victory was certified [File: Pilar Olivares/Reuters]

Guatemala City, Guatemala – It has been less than two weeks since progressive, anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arevalo won Guatemala’s presidential election, capping a months-long campaign marred by scandals.

But Arevalo’s victory in an August 20 run-off has not put an end to the political turmoil, as electoral officials earlier this week suspended the president-elect’s Seed Movement party just hours after his victory was certified.

The Citizen Registry, a body within the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, announced on Monday that it had temporarily suspended the party following an order from a lower court judge.

Lawyers from the Seed Movement party challenged the decision a day later, setting the stage for possible appeals before Guatemala’s Supreme and Constitutional courts – the former is the highest court in the Central American nation.

Following the election’s certification and amid concerted international pressure for the results to be respected, outgoing Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said his administration would begin the transition of power beginning on September 4.

Still, the Seed Movement’s suspension is the latest in a series of challenges for the centre-left party, as well as Arevalo, who will be sworn in early next year and could face serious difficulties governing should the suspension be upheld.

While presidential candidate Sandra Torres of the conservative National Unity of Hope (UNE) party has remained silent following her defeat, her party has continued to make unsubstantiated accusations of irregularities in the vote count.

International and local observers have unanimously held up the integrity of the election.

Here, Al Jazeera speaks to Guatemalan political analysts and constitutional law experts about the latest political developments in the country – and what comes next.

Edgar Ortiz, constitutional lawyer and analyst at Liberty and Development Foundation, centre-right think tank

“It is very obvious that this decision [to suspend the Seed Movement] was not legal.

“It is a freezing of certain rights of a political party.

“There’s another legal [mechanism], which is the cancellation. With cancellation, legally speaking, [a party] dies, it disappears. But with a suspension of the party, it still exists.

“This decision is not definitive. [The Seed Movement] has already filed an appeal, and the [Supreme Electoral Tribunal] will hold a hearing. My gut tells me that the electoral tribunal will favour [the party].

“This is another example of how the public prosecutor’s office is weaponising criminal law to try to prevent [the Seed Movement] from taking office.”

Oswaldo Samayoa, constitutional law expert and professor at San Carlos University of Guatemala

“There is a breaking of the constitutional order.

“On one side, it is the destruction of the exercise of free political participation of citizens through the political parties. And on the other, it is the establishment of censorship mechanisms for political participation against those with ideologies or positions different from those [of] the elites.

“[The suspension] removes the possibility of the Seed Movement party from being a legislative bloc within Congress.

“If the suspension manages to be sustained over time to make way for the cancellation, [Seed Movement] would have 23 deputies without a legislative bloc who cannot be part of legislative committees and that cannot be part of the Board of Directors [of Congress] next year.

“[It takes] power away from Bernardo Arevalo within Congress.”

Gabriela Carrera, political science professor at Rafael Landivar University in Guatemala City

“The most important problem is not for the Seed Movement party, but for Guatemala’s democracy.

“They are uprooting a political project. It is a coup de grace to participation, to representation, and to the construction of collective proposals. It does not only have to do with just Arevalo.

“The question is how are citizens going to respond.

“[Arevalo] would never have gotten to where he is without the voters. They are the subjects of democracy, the voters, the citizenry.”

Luis Fernando Mack, sociologist and political science professor at San Carlos University of Guatemala

“[The suspension] is a sign that the actors in power can use all legal and institutional mechanisms in their favour to hinder the new government and play hard. It is like an entry warning.

“The decision will likely be revoked by the Citizen Registry, but you cannot know what they are going to do. But it seems that the court is going to reject the [suspension].

“They are generating feelings of fear and uncertainty in [people’s] minds.”

Source: Al Jazeera