By: Ana Santos, Program Manager, Latin America and the Caribbean
Guatemala is at an important political and social juncture in its democratic development. April 2015 was a key turning point as the Public Ministry and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala began to unveil a wave of corruption scandals within the country’s public administration apparatus that started with a case, called “La Linea” (or the line), which revealed an elaborate customs scheme within the country’s tax authorities to defraud the country of millions of dollars and involved members in the highest echelons of government. The case ultimately led to a political crisis.
This was a turning point for Guatemalans, who said “enough!” to the corruption and impunity that have historically plagued country. In unprecedented numbers, citizens took to the streets for months to demonstrate and demand change, resulting in the resignation of the Vice President in May 2015 and the President shortly before the general elections in September.
In this context, through the “Elections: More Inclusion, Less Violence” project implemented by the Consortium for Electoral and Political Processes (CEPPS), the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) provided technical assistance to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in three areas during the 2015 electoral process: general planning; implementation of electoral security measures; and campaign finance monitoring and oversight.
IFES supported election officials in developing and implementing a comprehensive elections operation plan. IFES supported the production and reproduction of 66,000 pieces of electoral materials, and radio and TV spots, which included information on the electoral rights of LGBTI communities and people with disabilities. Following the first round of elections in September, IFES assisted the TSE in conducting a general post-elections evaluation plan to make improvements for the October runoff election. After the runoff elections, IFES helped facilitate a strategic planning workshop using the Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) methodology to plan a mid- and long-term strategy for the election management body. These efforts contributed to the successful administration of the elections, particularly in the planning and logistical operations down to the polling station level. Both the national observer group, Mirador Electoral (Electoral Watch) and the Organization of American States noted improvements in the administration of elections and applauded the coordination of electoral organization and logistics, as well as the timely and accurate transmission of preliminary results.
Through the project, IFES supported the TSE in coordinating electoral security efforts with the Attorney General’s Office and other relevant state institutions by facilitating the work of the Electoral Security Inter-Institutional Coordination Committee. IFES also worked closely with the electoral authorities and security stakeholders, conducting an electoral violence assessment and updated electoral conflict risk maps throughout the electoral process. These tools were crucial in allowing authorities to plan and maximize resources to mitigate election-related violence. IFES helped develop and reproduce 16,000 electoral security materials such as protocols, electoral security directories, and informational posters on electoral felonies and crimes for nationwide distribution. Furthermore, a civic education campaign on violence mitigation was launched both at the national level and in five departments. TSE officials from all 22 departments received training in conflict management and resolution. As a result of collaboration under this project, the Attorney General’s Office created and is allocating resources for a permanent Electoral Felonies and Crimes Unit, which previously only operated on a temporary basis during elections.
As the TSE strengthened its resolve to enforce campaign finance regulations during a rather turbulent time when the influence of illicit actors in the political process became more evident, IFES provided technical advice on engaging with other government institutions to gain better access to information to conduct more effective and transparent political party campaign finance oversight. IFES helped the TSE develop and publicize a code of ethics for political parties that promoted peaceful elections and campaign ethics and transparency and was adopted by 23 of the 26 national-level parties. A similar code of ethics was adopted in 10 municipalities that were identified as high risk for electoral violence. IFES also assisted the TSE in monitoring the media as part of campaign finance oversight, which provided the TSE with reliable data to scrutinize the political parties’ campaign spending that resulted in stronger sanctions and temporary suspensions of political parties for the first time.
In addition to the technical support provided to the TSE during the 2015 elections, since 2012 IFES and its CEPPS partners have been supporting Guatemala’s efforts to improve the country’s political and electoral systems by reforming the Electoral and Political Parties Law (LEPP). To that end, IFES provided technical expertise and advise as the electoral authorities prepared and revised several iterations of the LEPP reform while other CEPPS partners supported the same efforts through Congress. After almost four years, several iterations of the bill, and consultations with civil society and other stakeholders, Congress passed the LEPP and in May 2016 newly-elected President Jimmy Morales signed the reforms into law.
Through these activities, IFES has championed social inclusion of groups traditionally disenfranchised from the political process. As such, it has aimed to mainstream the inclusion of indigenous groups, women, youth, persons with disabilities, and LGBTI persons throughout its activities. This was most evident in IFES’ support of targeted voter registration efforts to traditionally underrepresented groups, particularly transgender persons. IFES has also supported the TSE in better serving these voters by educating poll-workers and other officials of the rights of each of these communities to participate in the political process on equal footing with the rest of the population. Through its civic education efforts, IFES developed targeted messages to ensure that these groups are part of the process, are well-informed, and understand the importance of participating in the public and political life of the country.
As its electoral assistance program comes to an end, IFES will continue to support Guatemalan efforts to increase accountability and transparency of elected officials and public institutions through its participation in the “Civil Society for Accountable Governance and Citizens” project, a collaboration led by Counterpart International that aims to strengthen and develop the institutional capacity of civil society organizations in Guatemala to play a more effective role in addressing citizen security, accountable governance, and corruption issues.
IFES’ work in Guatemala is made possible by the U.S. Agency for International Development.