Election Observations

Guatemala had it’s presidential elections yesterday and it’s super fascinating observing another countries electoral process. It’s actually been fascinating for the past year leading into the elections. There are not only debates, forums, TV adds (less slander than the US, more seemingly unfulfillable promises), but also catchy songs on the radio, and ENDLESS propaganda.

Signs plaster every telephone pole, building, and billboard in the city. Outside the city the party logos are painted onto every possible edifice – rocks, trees, etc. Why logos? In the election itself people mark the logo for a party. If someone is unable to read but decides to vote, they may choose the logo the see most frequently. So propaganda it is.

Another interesting twist occurred in that many candidates started plastering their faces as early as last March. The law states that no one can begin their campaign until May. In addition, a Tribunal must approve of every candidate. In a country rich with corruption, there are measures in place to help preserve the office (does it work? no comment). One candidate in particular rallied hard in her campaign before the Tribunal ruled that she’s not approved to run because she’s the now ex-wife of the current president. Their divorce was a political move because the law states that no direct relative of a current president may run for office. So while she’s out, her face is still ALL OVER the city.

Fast forward to election day. Yesterday. Volunteers manned the voting poles to help provide accountability to the process – these volunteers observed each table and, since the voting itself is not computerized, they also completed the counting process – almost a 15 hour day. The results are in on Mayor, Congress, etc. But in order for a new president to be named he must receive at least 51% of the people’s votes. No candidate received 51%. Now the top two (Otto Perez Molina and Manuel Baldizon – sorry, no English websites on him) will compete in a run off election on November 6th. The new president takes office in January.

In addition to the question of “who will be president” people are also asking, “where will this president take us?” It’s no secret that Guatemala is plagued by crime and corruption, has a history of armed conflict and genocide. The new president has the opportunity to either clean things up a bit or take the country further in that direction.

The first question will be answered November 6th, only time will tell on the second.

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