Guatemala's divorced first lady barred from running for president

Critics said Sandra Torres' divorce from President Colom was a scam to dodge a ban on relatives running for office. Her party promises to appeal, but the candidates' list is due July 11.

Moises Castillo/AP/File
Guatemala's presidential candidate Sandra Torres, of the National Unity for Hope political party, waves to supporters in Guatemala City, on May 8. Electoral officials said today that Ms. Torres will not be able to run for office, despite her divorce from Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom.

On Wednesday, Guatemalan electoral authorities rejected Sandra Torres's presidential candidacy on the grounds of "supposed legal fraud." The resolution from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) said that her divorce from President Alvaro Colom did not invalidate Article 186 barring relatives of previous presidents from becoming president.

The resolution also claimed that her candidacy was denied based on the grounds of legal fraud (Article 4 of the Judiciary Act) because the divorce was sought solely to get around the constitutional prohibition of Article 186 (Prensa Libre). The TSE must resolve the appeal of Ms. Torres and her party, the National Unity of Hope (UNE), within the next 72 hours and then the case will most likely move to the Constitutional Court for a final decision.

As I said in April, there didn't really seem to be any good reason why the country's courts would not grant the Coloms their divorce. However, having the electoral authorities accept the divorce and allow her to run for the presidency was going to be another matter.

Then there's the question of what to do if Torres' candidacy is rejected again by the TSE and then finally by the Constitutional Court. Congressman Christian Boussinot (UNE) acknowledged that Mr. Colom's ruling National Unity of Hope party lacked a viable candidate to stand in the September 11 elections. "We do not have a Plan B," he said, noting the party's executive committee planned to appeal the ruling. (AFP)

A few months ago I argued that Torres and Colom's decision to divorce so that she can run for president is another example of the weakness of Guatemala's political parties. UNE has been around for a decade and is one of the larger parties in the congress, yet it couldn't come up with a candidate that did not confront constitutional barriers to office.

That's still the case and is made worse by the fact that even though there was a very good likelihood that Torres wouldn't be allowed to run for office, they hadn't thought through a Plan B. On the other hand, it's possible that Boussinot's statement was just for public consumption.

I also guessed that Torres' support would drop below 10 percent following her announcement that she was going to divorce her husband in order to marry her country. She's sitting at 15 percent right now, so I am in a little trouble there. Perhaps the TSE's ruling is good news for Torres and UNE. She won't have to run and lose in embarrassing fashion to General Otto Perez Molina, and UNE has the ability to select a candidate who, while he or she won't win this year, will have some name recognition for 2015.

--- Mike Allison is an assistant professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.

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