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Questions persist over Guatemala election funding ahead of Sunday vote

Guatemalan political parties appear to be flouting the election funding cap and trying to conceal their funding sources, which some worry could be Guatemala's criminal groups.

By Hannah StoneGuest blogger / September 8, 2011

Workers of the Electoral Tribunal of Guatemala prepare electoral ballots for shipment across the country in Guatemala City, September 4, ahead of the presidential and legislative elections on September 11.

William Gularte/Reuters

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As Guatemala gets closer to election day, allegations of misdeeds continue to dog the campaigns, from murders of candidates to irregularities in campaign funding.

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Guatemala goes to the polls on September 11 to elect the president, members of Congress, mayors, and town councilors. The run-up to the elections has been plagued by violence and scandals, with more than 20 political murders committed by mid-June. As InSight Crime predicted, the violence worsened over the summer as the elections drew nearer, with the death toll now standing at 36, according to the Human Rights Ombudsman.

Many of these murders are linked to organized criminal interests who are determined to win influence through having the candidate of their choice elected, especially in local positions of power like mayorships.

A more subtle threat to the legitimacy of the Guatemalan elections is posed by irregularities in campaign funding. A recent report by Mirador Electoral, a union of various NGOs, found that the two leading parties had flouted the spending cap of 48 million quetzeles ($6 million). The leading Partido Patriotica (PP) has spent 88.7 million quetzeles, according to the watchdog, almost double the assigned limit. Meanwhile UNE-GANA, a coalition including the National Unity of Hope party (Unidad Nacional de Esperanza - UNE) of current President Alvaro Colom, spent 61.8 million quetzeles. Mirador Electoral added it was likely that the Lider party has broken the spending limit, as they almost had by August 15, with more than three weeks to go before the elections.

According to the NGOs, this overspending is particularly troubling because there is a “direct correlation” between money spent and how each party fares in the polls. The PP, far in the lead with spending, has been leading the presidential polls for some months. The latest poll by Siglo 21 put PP presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina at just under 45 percent, an eight point drop from his showing in the previous poll, but still far ahead of his nearest rival, Lider's Manuel Baldizon, at 22.5 percent. This suggests that the financial irregularities are a serious issue, capable of affecting the outcome of the election.

A still more serious source of concern is the source of these funds. Mirador Electoral warned in a July report that political parties appeared to be trying to conceal the source of their funding, which comes mainly from private donors. It noted that the lack of transparency gave reason to believe that money came from “illicit sources.”

There is a long tradition of Guatemala’s criminal groups – who are mostly well-established, rooted in a particular region, and family-run, like the Mendozas and the Lorenzanas – buying off politicians. As InSight Crime has noted, building ties to mayors, who have influence on security policies and control budgets at the municipal level, is often a priority for these groups.

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