More Links in News & Events

Postelection Statement on Guatemala Elections, Dec. 19, 2003

This is the second statement of the Carter Center's electoral mission in Guatemala since the arrival of the observation team on Oct. 20, 2003. The Carter Center thanks the government and people of Guatemala for the opportunity to monitor the electoral process along with other international electoral observation missions, including the European Union and the Organization of American States. The Center also joins these missions in congratulating the citizens of Guatemala for their peaceful and committed participation in the elections on Nov. 9. We also recognize and commend the dedication of electoral authorities and national observers, who worked under often difficult circumstances.

Since the elections on Nov. 9, The Carter Center established a presence in Quetzaltenango and in Sololá to focus on the Western Highlands of Guatemala, a region characterized by high levels of poverty, weak justice institutions, and the ongoing impact of past internal armed conflict. While gathering information on regional human rights issues relating to the electoral process, the Center also sought to strengthen its support for national observer groups. At the national level and in the departments (Baja Verapaz, Chimaltenango, El Quiché, Sololá, Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán, San Marcos, y Huehuetenango), the Center helped convene and conduct inter-institutional meetings to share evaluations and recommendations related to the electoral process. Participants in these meetings have included the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos, PDH), Mirador Electoral, the Second Indigenous Electoral Observation Mission, the University of San Carlos, the Rafael Landívár University, the Public Prosecutor's Office (Ministerio Público, MP), the National Civilian Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC), and the Electoral Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE).

Participation in the Elections
Despite the atmosphere of insecurity and uncertainty that prevailed before Nov. 9, 58 percent of registered voters exercised their right to vote, according to the TSE. The Carter Center applauds this civic participation and notes the consistent trend of increasing electoral participation since elections in 1995 and 1999. In the Western Highlands (El Quiché, Sololá, Chimaltenango, Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Totonicapán), where Carter Center election observers were deployed, TSE results demonstrate a similar pattern. Nonetheless, this overall pattern merits further analysis since the level of participation at the municipal level varied widely in these departments from 35 percent to 90 percent.

National observers with whom The Carter Center met agreed without exception that the high participation of women voters, especially within indigenous communities, was among the most significant advances during these elections. However, particularly in some of the poorest regions without effective voter education and monitoring, this participation must be analyzed in terms of the strategies by political parties to coerce voting, a concern discussed below. Local monitors also point out that there was a notable absence of indigenous representation among both electoral authorities and political candidates at all levels of government.

Another development shared by participants in inter-agency meetings convened by the Center was the unprecedented frequency of vote splitting between different political parties. Citizens who previously might have voted for the same party at the municipal, district, and national levels were more willing and better prepared in these elections to differentiate among candidates and to split their votes, as permitted by law. However, there was significant and relevant regional variation in the frequency of this split voting.

Access to the Polls
Voters were met with slow-moving lines and administrative confusion because of inefficient polling procedures and serious errors in the recently updated voter registry. Many voters responded to the TSE invitation earlier in the year to update their registration, but found on election day either their names did not appear in the new registry or electoral officials lacked sufficient training to locate the names on the lists or to advise voters, given local languages and high levels of illiteracy. An insufficient number and inadequate size of some voting stations exacerbated the resulting tensions, which led to violence and ballot burning in municipalities such as Cuyotenango and El Quetzal. According to reliable analysis by independent electoral observers, a significant number of citizens did not cast their votes as a result of these obstacles.

In spite of these obstacles, Carter Center monitors noted, along with other international and national observers, the impressive patience, tolerance, and determination of voters. The TSE has expressed its commitment to take corrective measures, and further training of electoral officials has already begun. However the pressure experienced by many officials during the first round of the elections has led some volunteer election officials to resign. In particular, The Carter Center supports the recommendation to the TSE of Mirador Electoral take appropriate measures to address problems that arose during the first round of elections associated with the updated voter registry.

Vote Buying and Duress by Political Parties
The Carter Center received reliable information both in the Altiplano and in the departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz about vote-buying strategies used by some political parties at the municipal level before and during election day. Voters were offered money, agricultural tools, housing construction materials, projects and credit as inducements to vote for particular candidates or parties. The Carter Center also learned that some parties registered names and identity card numbers of the recipients of party handouts. One national observer commented that the offer of money and goods among poor communities amounted to ¨playing with the hunger¨ of people.

National electoral observers with experience in community based development initiatives in the Western Highlands explained to Carter Center monitors that the practice of vote-buying among indigenous populations not only exploits poverty, but also takes advantage of indigenous cultural norms in an attempt to create an obligation to vote for a specific party. This view was shared by some participants in the Carter Center's departmental inter-institutional meetings, who emphasized how the impact of vote buying strategies is amplified by the cultural significance of giving one's word in indigenous communities-a reference to a profound commitment to reciprocity and the obligation to fulfill an oral promise.

These deplorable political strategies were often unsuccessful, however. National observers in the Altiplano found that, in contrast to previous elections, the receipt of goods or money from a political party did not necessarily guarantee a particular vote. According to these observers, voter education initiatives counseled citizens that the acceptance of a gift from a political party does not oblige an individual to vote for that party. This pragmatic advice minimized the impact of vote buying in some municipalities, but does not address the underlying contradiction between these practices and the fundamental value at issue in indigenous communities. More information and analysis is required in order to measure the impact of vote buying in light of these factors.

National and international observers also consistently noted their concerns about the lack of effective legal sanctions against vote-buying. Officials in the Public Prosecutor's Office explained to The Carter Center that neither the Law concerning the Elections and Political Parties nor the Penal Code penalizes the attempt to influence voting by offering material benefits anytime before a ballot is cast. The Penal Code does criminalize such activity if it occurs during the voting process. The Carter Center has not been able to verify a consistent practice by Guatemalan authorities to investigate minor criminal or administrative offences of this kind. Both the TSE and the MP indicate the difficulty of proving vote-buying or its consequences, even when the activity occurs near voting centers on election day.

Misuse of Public Resources by the Governing Party
The Carter Center received reliable information regarding the use of public resources for political purposes in some municipalities of the Western Highlands preceding the Nov. 9 elections. According to national observers, in exchange for a vote for the governing party, development projects, debt write-offs, and credit were offered. In some cases, state development agencies were involved directly or indirectly in these political campaign strategies. Particularly among the most vulnerable and marginalized populations, these strategies generated the fear of losing vital resources for survival. In addition to being explicitly prohibited by the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, these actions violate international human rights standards by compromising the exercise of a free vote.

In some regions visited by The Carter Center, the controversial government policy of providing remuneration to ex-Civil Defense Patrols (Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, ex-PACs) was used for political ends by the governing party. An immediate result of the politicization of this policy was the use of illegal measures by ex-PAC members who had not received their compensation, including roadblocks, the taking of hostages in various municipalities, including Ratahuleu, el Quiché, and Huehuetenango, and threats to obstruct the elections. Moreover, in regions still suffering from the legacy of the internal armed conflict, the policy also has led to the resurgence of psychosocial problems among citizens and has created the possibility of a revitalization of paramilitary structures. The recent announcement by the Constitutional Court that payments to ex-PAC will be suspended and subsequent confusion regarding the legal status of that decision have exacerbated tensions that could affect the electoral process.

Political Violence
The Public Prosecutor's Office informed The Carter Center about what it considers to be the most important cases of election-related violence. Eight cases arose before the Nov. 9 elections, nine cases were reported on election day, and 14 cases emerged post-election. These cases include homicide and various incidents of political violence, such as the burning of ballots by voters on election day in places such as Cuyotenango, Suchitepequez and El Quetzal, San Marcos, as well as threats and attacks against individuals. The number of cases of political violence reported by Mirador Electoral and by the PDH, however, is much higher than this small number under investigation by the Public Prosecutor's Office, raising questions about access to justice, discussed below. As a result of violence on Nov. 9 in four municipalities, the TSE decided to suspend or annul and, therefore, to repeat the elections on Dec. 28. But post-electoral conflict persists in many more municipalities, such as Aguacatan and Huehuetenango, and particularly where mayors sought re-election, such as San Pedro Ayampuc and Cantabal, Ixcan

Post-electoral incidents reported by the Public Prosecutor generally involved demands by opposition parties that re-elected mayors renounce their victories, or demands for the repetition of elections based on allegations of fraud or corruption. The Carter Center is observing some of these cases in the Western Highlands and is concerned about the risk of violence in these areas before or on Dec. 28.

In the case of notorious political violence on July 24-25, commonly known as ¨Black Thursday," as well as in other cases, the Public Prosecutor's Office indicated to The Carter Center that the immunity of political officials who are suspects has limited prosecutorial actions by the Public Prosecutor's Office. It should be noted, however, that this right to immunity does not limit the power of the Public Prosecutor to conduct investigations.

Access to Justice in the Electoral Process
According to the TSE and MP, between 1985 and the present, there have been no convictions of electoral crimes. Officials of the TSE, the PDH, and the MP, as well as national electoral observers point to a number of institutional weaknesses that limit access to justice within the context of electoral crimes and other anomalies. These factors include the lack of investigative capacity and institutional resources of the TSE and MP, the lack of capacity of political party observers, and the paucity of legitimately filed complaints registered with the correct authorities by alleged victims.

National observers and authorities informed The Carter Center that the lack of effective access to and weakness of response from investigative and judicial institutions heightens the risk of violence in various municipalities, including Sacapulas and Aguacatan. In light of the need for preventative measures and mediation by appropriate government institutions signaled by local monitors, it is encouraging that the PDH has successfully negotiated non-violence pacts with relevant political actors in several municipalities, such as San Pedro Ayampuc, Chinautla, and Amatitlan in the department of Guatemala, whereby the parties agreed to accept peacefully the results of the upcoming presidential elections.

Civil Society Organizations and Election Authorities
Among factors contributing to the high voter participation during the Nov. 9 elections were the efforts of civil society organizations to provide civic education and encourage the free exercise of the right to vote. In spite of a climate of insecurity around the electoral process, civil society groups exerted an unprecedented and crucial influence through initiatives aimed at raising citizens' political awareness and monitoring of the electoral process.

The national observation delegations incorporated people and communities that historically have been socially, politically, economically, and culturally marginalized. The experience of participating in the election delegations seems to have increased the awareness of and capacity for collective political influence among, for example, indigenous communities, women, and youth. Most of the individuals and groups that participated in national observation initiatives came from existing social movements and community organizations. By incorporating their election experience into their community work, these volunteers will be part an increasingly sophisticated civil society sector that can better monitor the new government's actions and hold elected officials accountable.

The Carter Center also notes the energetic participation of volunteers affiliated with the PDH, an institution charged with the crucial role of monitoring the government and holding appropriate officials accountable. The Public Prosecutor's Office also fielded electoral observers during election day with the aim of preventing and investigating electoral crimes. National and international observers are monitoring the MP's resulting investigations, as well as the effectiveness of the coordination between the MP and the Inspector General of the TSE.

At meetings organized after Nov. 9 by The Carter Center in Chimaltenango, Sololá, El Quiché, Quetzaltenango, San Marcos, Totonicapán and Huehuetenango, the Center learned that in some locations there was significant and beneficial coordination among election authorities and local election monitors. In the department of Quetzaltenango, for example, long-term collaborative interaction among governmental and nongovernmental agencies involved in the elections had significant benefits for the peacefulness and efficiency of the elections. In other locations, however, there was a lack of collaboration or, at worst, antagonism. In all of the post-election meetings facilitated by the Center, participants representing both the state and civil society groups recommended further coordination to clarify functions, share information, and discuss observation strategies, with the ultimate mutual goal of strengthening the electoral process.

Expected Low Voter Participation on Dec. 28
National electoral observers and authorities have expressed concerns regarding a possible reduction in citizen participation in the second round of voting on Dec. 28. This concern is related in part to presumed voter fatigue resulting from tensions and obstacles faced by the general population before the first round on Nov. 9. The Carter Center shares the concern of some national observers that, prior to the second round, there have been comparatively few governmental or nongovernmental initiatives to encourage voter participation on Dec. 28. The Carter Center also is concerned that the political platforms of the two presidential candidates contesting the second round provide little incentive to the electorate to exercise their vote. Both parties sought to reduce the confrontational nature of the political campaigning during the first round, but neither party has presented platforms that engage meaningfully with issues of concern to the majority of the electorate.

The Carter Center welcomes efforts by the TSE and other public authorities to provide a secure and conducive environment for elections on Dec. 28 and further recommends

To the Supreme Electoral Tribunal:

1) Take all possible additional measures to minimize the impact of errors detected in the electoral register during the first round of voting.

2) Ensure the number, location, and internal configuration of voting stations allows efficient access, public order, and voter secrecy.

3) Strengthen coordination within the TSE and provide local election officials adequate training and logistical support so they can assist voters. Make every effort to provide this assistance in appropriate local languages and with impartiality and respect for all voters.

To State Authorities and Political Parties:

4) Ensure support for national observers and that observers' important role in the electoral process is clarified through coordination efforts at all levels.

5) Take all possible measures to avoid confrontation and possible violence, especially at the municipal level, through effective coordination and provision of resources for mediation of electoral conflicts.

6) Clarify procedures for reporting human rights abuses or violations of the Law regarding Elections and Political Parties and take expedient action in response to complaints.

7) Honor commitments made in the Political Pact of July 2003, especially at the municipal level and with regard to pledges not to use state resources and to assure transparency in campaign finance.

8) Call upon all registered voters to participate in the second round of the elections.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top