On Wednesday, Guatemala’s electoral court officially validated the outcome of the first round of presidential elections, thereby paving the way for a subsequent runoff.
But minutes earlier, the Attorney General’s Office suspended the legal status of the social democratic Semilla party of Bernardo Arevalo, who came second in the first round of voting on June 25.
Former first lady Sandra Torres of the centrist UNE party took first place in the initial vote — meaning Torres and Arevalo would be going head-to-head in the run-off, if Semilla’s suspension does not intervene.
The suspension extends the weeks of doubt on the runoff vote since the decision of an earlier court prompted fears of a recount.
Guatemala’s constitutional court ordered the results from the first round of presidential elections to be reviewed after a joint appeal by UNE and eight other parties, expressing doubt in the surprise second-placed finisher.
The runoff election is set to be held on August 20.
Why was Semilla suspended?
Rafael Curruchiche, the special prosecutor against impunity, said that a citizen reported having his name falsely added to a signature-gathering effort for Semilla as the party tried to establish itself. He said that this also left open the possibility of money laundering.
The party had needed at least 25,000 signatures to form itself legally.
The Attorney General’s Office said it also found the signatures of 12 deceased people on the list.
The special prosecutor claimed that there were indications that more than 5,000 signatures were illegally gathered.
Curruchiche’s statement was released moments before a scheduled news conference by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which was expected to confirm the result of the June 25 election.
Tribunal president Irma Palencia said she was unaware of the decision.
“We know that elections are won at the ballot box, with the sacred suffrage of the people,” she said.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal now has 24 hours to implement the decision.
However, experts have noted that Guatemala’s electoral laws also establish that no party can be suspended while elections are still underway.
What happened after the first round of voting?
On June 25, Torres won 15.9% of the vote and Arevalo gained a surprise 11.8%.
The candidate representing the conservative Vamos party of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, Mario Conde, took third place at just over 10% of the vote.
Vamos, UNE and a number of other Guatemalan parties filed a joint complaint alleging irregularities in the election, which prompted the country’s constitutional court to order a review.
The court had said that Guatemalan authorities would check votes from the first round to see if they meet legal requirements, especially in the case of suspected irregularities.
Observers from the Organization of American States said at the time that the election appeared to have been carried out fairly.