Most Guatemalans unhappy with options in this weekend's presidential election

Violence is down compared to the last presidential election, but Guatemalans deserve more than what they have been offered in this campaign of candidates with questionable backgrounds.

Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters
Guatemala's Patriot Party (PP) presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina speaks during an interview with Reuters in Guatemala City in August. Guatemalans will vote for a new president on Sunday.

I really can’t say that the 2011 electoral campaign has been a major step forward for Guatemalan democracy.

In terms of the presidential candidates, front runner Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party is an alleged war criminal from the country's civil war years and a person who retains close ties to hidden powers in the postwar period. I always thought that given what we’d read about Perez, he would have been on the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala’s (CICIG) radar. Now, there’s a good chance that he’ll be president.

The candidate person with the second most electoral support, Sandra Torres of the National Unity for Hope (UNE) and Grand National Alliance (GANA) coalition, is constitutionally barred from competing because her relationship with President Alvaro Colom violates Article 186 of the constitution preventing close relatives of the president from running for the presidency. Torres and her family are still rumored to be tied to drug trafficking and money laundering. On Wednesday, a judge opened an investigation into Torres because she urged Guatemalans not to vote in the presidential election after the constitutional court rejected her final appeal.

UNE and GANA are two of the country’s largest political parties and account for approximately one-third of the congress’ seats. The two parties have no presidential candidate and their short-lived electoral alliance will likely end in a matter of days. I wouldn't be surprised if one, if not both, were not around in 2015.

Given that Sandra Torres cannot compete, Manuel Baldízon of LIDER is now running as Perez' main competitor. Baldízon is a politician who offered $61,000 to other members of congress to switch to his new political party LIDER. Offering cash to switch parties is not illegal, but it’s not something that inspires confidence. It speaks to the general weakness of the country’s parties and overall party system.

Baldízon and his family are also allegedly connected to drug trafficking and organized crime in the Peten. Those are still illegal. CICIG anyone? While Baldízon does not believe that he is the messiah, he is perfectly willing to pretend that he is in order to capture votes in this weekend’s contest.

It should not come as a surprise that over 80 percent of all Guatemalans believe that they deserve better than the current crop of presidential candidates.

In terms of the country’s political parties, there's not a lot of good to report. Political parties have not devised sophisticated political platforms that are likely to address the country's problems. That, however, is somewhat forgivable as the platform is more of a list of priorities and wish lists rather than a blueprint for governing.

On the other hand, the parties didn't bother to adhere to the official start date of this year's campaign. The major political parties could care less about campaign finance laws. They don't report who's providing their campaigns with financial contributions and several have spent well over what is allowed by law. There remain legitimate concerns as to the extent to which this year’s campaigns have been infiltrated by money from by drug traffickers and organized crime.

Some parties don't even know their candidates. To be fair, approximately 32,000 Guatemalans are running for office next Sunday! I'm not sure if that includes 21 mayoral candidates of the leftist Frente Amplio that were rejected because of technicalities.

One of the only good things to characterize this year's campaign is that it is less violent compared to the 2007 campaign, in spite of what many of us feared would happen. Even though one mayoral candidate from San José Pinula succeeded in killing two competitors, the overall campaign has seen fewer campaign-related deaths (36) compared to the previous election (68). And, fortunately, calm prevails in those municipalities that officials had been most worried about leading up to Sunday’s vote.

That's something, but I think that Guatemalans were hoping for more.

Mike Allison is an associate 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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