GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The party of Guatemala’s president-elect Bernardo Arévalo appealed Tuesday to the country’s top electoral authority to lift a suspension by a lower election agency, saying it was an illegal move aimed at thwarting the anti-corruption campaigner.
The petition by Arévalo’s Seed Movement comes after a night of political chaos in the Central American nation following one of its most tumultuous elections in recent history.
Hours before the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal certified late Monday that Arévalo won this month’s presidential election, another government body — the electoral registry — suspended his party from all political activities.
Arévalo and his party, posing a threat to those keen on hold onto power, had already faced a slew of legal challenges, allegations of irregularities, and assassination plots, according to international observers.
Arévalo appears certain to take office as president in January, after beating former first lady Sandra Torres in a runoff with 60.9% of the vote against 37.2% for the right-wing Torres.
Arévalo called the suspension legally void during a news conference late Monday. “As of this moment, no one can impede me from taking office on Jan. 14,” he said.
But the suspension throws into doubt whether Seed Movement lawmakers can take their 23 seats in Congress, and also underscores the uphill battle faced by Arévalo, who campaigned on a progressive and anti-corruption platform.
“We’re basically entering really unexplored legal terrain,” said Tiziano Breda, a Central America expert at Italy’s Instituto Affari Internazionali. “But Arévalo’s victory is very hard to overrule. I’m not sure they want to risk great international concern, a diplomatic crisis, or what it could imply socially, the unrest it could provoke.”
He said he instead expects Arévalo’s opponents to continue to try and hamstring other parts of his government to make it as hard as possible for him to govern.
Torres once appeared to have a clear shot at the presidency earlier this year after various other competitors were eliminated from the race, sparking concerns about the country’s democracy.
In the first round of voting, little-known Arévalo emerged as a surprise presidential contender, going head-to-head with Torres, who came to represent the country’s elite at a time that Guatemalans, hungry for change, were tired of endemic corruption.
His win has been the source of a legal back-and-forth between various governmental entities and courts, some staffed with officials who have been sanctioned by the United States on charges of corruption.
He faces allegations of voter fraud by Torres. Raids on his party’s headquarters have caused concern in the international community and among Guatemalans. Earlier this week, the Organization of American States’ human rights commission asked that Guatemala provide protection for Arévalo after reports emerged of possible plots to kill him.
More than a week after the runoff, Torres still hasn’t conceded defeat and outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei hasn’t said anything about the latest developments.
Breda said the existing establishment is trying hard to overturn the results. “Even if they don’t manage to, this will have an implication of hindering a transition to Arévalo’s presidency,” he said.
Janetsky reported from Mexico City.