November 2006 Issue: Vote Early, Vote Often

If it weren’t for all the public works projects suddenly, magically gettingnov06 completed, you could be forgiven for not realizing that we’ve entered an election year.

Now, for all you people who come from countries where the voter turnout is generally higher for “American Idol” than for your presidential elections, we thought we might have little rundown on what democracy actually is.

It’s basically the process of giving poor people the illusion of choice while concentrating power in the hands of a homogenous elite, who are then controlled by faceless corporate interests. My main man Mao had a pithier way of putting it: Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

Representative democracy, the term most often applied to the Guatemalan system (after “Capitalist kleptocracy” and “god-awful mess”) was invented much later, mainly so that Political Science students could think they were witty by making placards saying things like “Representative Democracy is Neither”.

Democracy is a funny thing. Ha ha. So important that it’s worth invading countries to impose institutions with no historical foundation and little public support and yet so trivial that the US Supreme Court can stop a vote count because, well, nobody cares that much, right?

Every four years or so, political pundits take time off their busy schedule reporting presidential blowjobs to mock Guatemalan democracy. It’s an easy target, but bear this in mind: all those little “glitches” in the system – branch stacking, vote buying, ballot box stuffing, gerrymandering – are all euro/anglo/gringo inventions that were imported and, like sham religions, venereal diseases and driving ridiculously oversized SUVs around urban areas, found widespread acceptance here.

Studying Guatemalan politics is easy. In practical terms, the entire political spectrum ranges from Center Right to Extreme Right. There’s a less-than-dazzling array of chickenshit minor parties who we can ignore from the get go and four major players.

So. For all you people considering taking out Guatemalan citizenship and voting in the upcoming elections, here’s a little rundown on your options:
FRG: Having been led by two internationally recognized criminals in the past (Alfonso “take the money and run” Portillo and Efrain “scorched earth policy” Rios Montt) seems no impediment for this feisty troop on the extreme right. In fact, if the Spanish turn out to be as ineffectual as they look, Rios Montt may be back for another bite on the apple. Woo hoo.
UNE: OK. These guys do call themselves Center Rightists, but last election’s massive corruption scandal pretty much rules them out as serious contenders.
GANA: They say they’re Centrists, but you can expect more of the same conservative neoliberalist fun and games from these guys. Plenty of experience, highly organized – one to watch.
PAN: Possibly the most moderate of the parties, PAN is lead by a new guy, Luis Asturias, who, while seeming more transparent and less corrupt than the others, is most often charged with inexperience.

The current President, Oscar Berger, was with PAN until – not unlike a Cancun-based springbreaker on a crystal meth binge – he started hopping parties ‘til he found one that took him where he needed to go.

Berger has been relatively untouched by corruption allegations and other scandals during his term, a result that most analysts ascribe to the fact that he really hasn’t done much of anything at all.

Let the games begin.

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