The Guatemalan 2011 elections and the role of the NIMD
The presidential and parliamentary elections in Guatemala of 11 September 2011 have created the context for improvement of the political situation in the violence-ridden Central American country. This room for improvement is essential in order for Guatemala to grow towards a stable institutionalised democracy with a firm grip on the rule of law and the national territory. NIMD facilitated and will continue to facilitate the Guatemalan road to a stable democracy.
As expected on the basis of the polls prior to the elections, former general Otto Pérez Molina and his Partido Patriota (PP) cruised to victory in the first election round with 36,09 % of the votes. Molina’s main competitor, the populist lawyer Manuel Baldizón of the Líder party, did not have as much time to campaign as Molina but was still able to secure 23,27% of the votes. A remarkable achievement considering that only a month before the elections Baldizón was believed to secure only 10% of the votes. Because the presidency can only be taken after the first round when more than 50% of the votes is obtained, a second election round on 6 November is needed to decide who will be Guatemala’s next president. Analysts point out that, unexpectedly, Baldizón stands a decent chance in the second round against the uncertain-looking Pérez Molina. The PP was also victorious in the parliamentary elections, obtaining 26,83% of the votes. UNE-GANA, the current governing party, followed closely with securing 22,6% of the votes. UNE-GANA suffered a setback in the pre-election process as their main candidate Sandra Torres, wife of the current president Álvaro Colom, was ruled out from participating in the elections by the Guatemalan Supreme Court because of her marital relationship. The Guatemalan constitution prohibits family members of the incumbent president to take part in presidential elections. A last minute divorce in order to secure participation was carried out, but the Supreme Court decided that this was an abuse of the law.
The turnout for the elections was high with almost 70% of the people qualified to vote making their way to the ballot boxes. The participation of Guatemalan women was also considered to be high, reaching the same percentage of the men’s participation. Another positive element of the elections was the relative peace in which the voting process took place, despite negative predictions of violence. A negative aspect of the elections was the uncertainty about the origin of the campaign funds of the main political parties. The parties did not want to disclose the sources of their funds. This gave rise to the assumption that part of the campaign money was in fact drug money provided by organised crime.
The NIMD’s field office in Guatemala-city represents a strong in-country presence. With the facilitation of democratic dialogue and scenario developments, the NIMD supports the Guatemalan political parties and civil society organisations. Through the Forum of Political Parties (FPP) the interparty dialogue is stimulated and NIMD played an important role in promoting the participation of women, youth and indigenous people in the political playing field. In the build-up towards the September 2011 elections the NIMD actively assisted the different political parties in trying to reach consensus on development policies. Also, NIMD supported the development and implementation of an accountability strategy in Congress. In general, NIMD facilitates the further democratisation of the relatively young democracy of Guatemala. Looking at previous elections, it can be concluded that progress has been made, but that there is still a lot of work to be done.