Guatemalan electoral magistrates flee
Three members of tribunal that certified election results leave the country after losing immunity.
A spokesperson for Guatemala’s immigration agency confirmed Friday that the jurists had left Guatemala that day after the Congress voted near midnight Thursday to lift the immunity of four of the court’s five magistrates. The agency did not say where the magistrates had gone. None of the magistrates have commented.
Blanca Alfara, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, said Friday that two magistrates had requested leave.
The magistrates certified the election result but came under pressure after allegations were levied by two attorneys tied to a far-right candidate who did not advance to the runoff round of the presidential election.
The attorneys complained that the tribunal overpaid for software purchased to carry out and publish rapid initial vote tallies. The attorney general’s office had previously said that its preliminary investigation suggested there had been less expensive options available.
In stripping the magistrates of their immunity, the lawmakers were following the recommendation of a special committee set up to investigate the allegations.
President-elect Ber-nardo Arévalo of the progressive Seed Movement party was the surprise winner.
Arévalo had not been polling among the top candidates headed into the first round of voting in June, but secured the second spot in the runoff with his promise to crack down on Guatemala’s endemic corruption. In the final vote in August, he won by a wide margin over former first lady Sandra Torres.
The son of a former president, Arévalo still managed to position himself as an outsider. As an academic who had worked for years in conflict resolution, he was untainted by the corruption that has pervaded Guatemalan politics in recent years and offered a promise of change.
But once he won a place in the runoff, Guatemala’s justice system swung into action with multiple investigations against his party and its leadership. Prosecutors got a judge to suspend the party, alleging that there was illegality in the way it gathered signatures to register as a party years earlier.
Last month, authorities arrested a number of Seed Movement members and prosecutors have requested that Arévalo and his vice president-elect also lose their immunity for allegedly making supportive comments on social media about the takeover of a public university last year.
Atty. Gen. Consuelo Porras, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government, has faced months of protests and calls for her resignation, as well as international condemnation for her office’s interference. Porras, as well as outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, have denied any intent to meddle in the election results.
Arévalo is scheduled to take office Jan. 14.
But the intent among Guatemala’s establishment, which would potentially have the most to fear from an Arévalo administration serious about taking on corruption, appears clear.
In testimony to the special committee investigating the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Karen Fisher, one of the attorneys who brought the complaint, urged them to move quickly.
“Time is short because Jan. 14 is coming up,” she said.