How Elections Go Down in Guatemala

By Diana Pastor

Every four years in this country a fierce battle is waged between the myriad of different political parties in Guatemala that reminds one of the free fighting competitions such as the UFC that one sees on TV: they are brutal, they have no real rules and they are extremely popular amongst the masses. No doubt, many of our readers have already been bombarded both visually and aurally in the streets by the advertising campaigns launched by the candidates vying for the presidency, Congress and the municipal mayorships that will be decided in the upcoming elections on September 6th. But do you know how the electoral process actually works in Guatemala? If not, then read on!

In the simplest of terms, let me tell you that we have a double system: a simple majority (also known as first past the post) for the president and the mayors, and the multi-member / plurinominal system that is used to elect the congressmen and women. All of these positions are chosen in just one election which, as we mentioned above, is held every four years, always on the 6th September. For the Presidency the vote share must be greater than 50% if a president is to be elected during the first round of voting. This has not happened in recent years so, in November, we tend to have another national election in which people vote in a runoff election for choosing the President of the nation, but this time the vote is only between the top two candidates who received the most votes in the first round. Presidents can never be re-elected under any circumstances, which given their track-records over the past few years can only be said to be a good thing!

Unlike many other countries, the vast majority of political candidates in Guatemala lack any kind of real political ideology. A quick glance through this election’s presidential candidates, for example, reveals them nearly all to claim to be “Centrist”. There have not really been any well-defined political trends that have emerged over the past few years, only a broad distinction between parties / candidates on the left and those on the right (which doesn’t mean much in practice as virtually all of the leading parties are right wing and the left is not well-established politically). Consequently, since the first democratic elections were held in the 1990s after the military governments in Guatemala, the right has won every single election and the left has not even come close to winning any. Very few people in Guatemala identify themselves as being “izquierdista” (on the left) or “derechista” (on the right); there are only the party colours, the names of the parties and their candidates.

With each passing election, many parties simply disappear or form coalitions to survive. Four years later, you can be sure to see new ones sprouting up. This year, Guatemalan citizens will elect the President of the Republic, a mayor for each municipality (335 in this case), and three types of congressmen: for national representation, for district representation (a total number of 158 congressmen and women) and those going to an organization called PARLACEN, or the Central American Parliament, in which the elected officials practically serve as ghosts, without the slightest impact for the average Central American citizen.

We could say a lot more about the crazy Guatemalan elections (read our last month´s editorial if you want our lowdown on the leading presidential candidates), but we hope that with this little article we´ve been able to bring you up to speed with what will be happening this coming September 6th. We wish everyone happy elections (sarcastically of course!).


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