Guatemala: Clean Polls, Dirty Politics

Guatemala: Clean Polls, Dirty Politics

Violence, killings and unregulated campaign finance endanger political life ahead of the Guatemalan polls in September International Crisis Group warns in new report.

While electoral polls at the September elections may be perfectly clean, the political context in Guatemala is anything but. Violence directed at candidates and electoral staff and exorbitantly expensive campaigns threaten the political climate as the country approaches general elections the International Crisis Group concludes in a briefing released Thursday.

Candidates killed by Gunmen

The briefing titled “Guatemala’s Elections: Clean Polls, Dirty Politics”, examines the upcoming presidential, legislative and local elections in the context of political institutions and practices still severely haunted by the legacies of 36 years of civil war, which has left political life marked by violence, corruption and national agencies unable to provide the necessary protection.

“Deteriorated security, drug traffickers’ brutality and polarised politics leave candidates especially vulnerable to attacks”, Javier Ciurlizza, Crisis Group’s Latin America and Caribbean Program Director says as a comment to recent events, where several candidates, their families and electoral staff have been killed by unidentified gunmen.

“The national security agencies and the electoral authority, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, should identify areas exposed to violence and bolster security measures there” Ciurlizza stresses.

Excessive spending on Campaigns

A more subtle risk to political life is, according to the Crisis Group, posed by exorbitantly expensive campaigns. Unregulated political finance has previously led to among the costliest (per capita) election campaigns on the continent – and for now, 2011 looks to be another extremely expensive year in terms of campaign spending.

 “Unrestrained money contributes to an exclusive political system that reasonably free voting every few years does little to hide, let alone reform”, says Crisis Group’s Research Director, Richard Atwood and argues: “Politicians and parties must fully reveal who fund them, and the Public Prosecutor’s office, electoral authorities and donors should press them to do so.”

Crisis Group therefore emphasizes the need for the Tribunal Supremo Electoral to monitor parties’ campaign spending and investigate their finances.