Government corruption leads to Guatemalan election

By Candace Kellner
Staff Writer

Guatemala has lost more than a dozen cabinet members, ministers and government officials after the surfacing of a political scandal involving Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

Molina submitted his resignation on Thursday, Sept. 3, after the Guatemalan Congress voted in favor of stripping the head of state of his prosecutorial immunity. The vote was unanimous, 132-0, and Molina and Baldetti are now in custody, according to CNN.

The Guatemalan attorney general’s office and a U.N. investigating commission suspected Molina and Baldetti of receiving bribes in exchange for lowering taxes for companies seeking to import products into the country. According to CNN, Molina and Baldetti have both denied the accusations.

Alejandro Maldonado, the vice president under Pérez Molina, was sworn in as his successor on Thursday, Sept. 3. According to CNN, Maldonado has been vice president since May when he took over after Baldetti’s resignation in May of this year. Maldonado has requested the resignation of the entire cabinet after the scandal.

Guatemala will receive its new president next month after a runoff election. The race’s front-runner is Guatemalan comedian-turned politician, Jimmy Morales. Morales will face off with either businessman Manuel Baldizón or former First Lady Sandra Torres. According to Guatemala’s electoral tribunal, Morales had 1.14 million votes, or more than 24 percent of the votes. Baldizón, is running neck and neck with Torres, with 19.41 percent and 19.25 percent of the vote, respectively, according to CNN.

Front-runner Morales poses at press conference. AP Photo.
Front-runner Morales poses at press conference. AP Photo.

Guatemala City has been the scene of protest since Thursday, April 16, when authorities publicly announced the corruption scheme. Constitution Square, in the heart of the capital, housed tens of thousands of protesters on Thursday, Aug. 27, in what is thought to be the largest demonstration in the country so far this year, reported CNN.

Gabriel Wer, student and leader of Justice Now Movement, cast his ballot dressed in black to demonstrate his belief that the current political system is dead.

“We’re in mourning because we know the electoral system we have nowadays is not the best,” Wer told CNN.  “We wanted to show in a very visible way that we’re outraged with this situation, with a process that has been corrupted. There are more than 1,400 candidates being investigated who are still running (out of a total of 23, 497).”

Álvaro Montenegro, another member of Justice Now, said that protesters have objected corruption in various ways.

“Many people called for annulling votes… for leaving ballots blank,” Montenegro told CNN. “Other voters were casting ballots for the small parties, rejecting polls and choosing a candidate that was not among the leaders.”

Millions of Guatemalans cast their ballots on Sunday, Sept. 6, to choose a new president, vice president, 158 members of Congress and 338 mayors. A runoff election for the presidency was widely expected with 14 presidential candidates, according to CNN.