Guatemala City, November 15. For the first time in 41 years, progressive Guatemalans will have a voice in government. The left-leaning New Guatemalan Democratic Front (FDNG), founded only four months ago, defied pollsters and have emerged as the third force in congress after Sunday's national elections.
The neoliberal National Advancement Party's (PAN) Alvaro Arz captured first place with 36.5 percent of the vote, not enough to avoid a run-off vote for president scheduled for next January 7. His rival will be second place finisher the far-right Guatemalan Republican Front's Alfonso Portillo. Portillo, who is more moderate than his party, won the support of 22 percent of the electorate.
Despite Arz's considerable lead over Portillo, the FRG candidates willingness to forge alliances with other parties could lead him to victory in the second round. In the 1990 elections, the National Union Center party's (UCN) won the first round but lost the presidency to second place finisher Jorge Serrano Elias.
Although numerous pre-election polls predicted the FDNG's Jorge Gonzalez Del Valle would win the support of less than one percent of the electorate, the US trained economist won eight times that amount in the November 12 elections. The Front came in third in the capital and fourth in most other areas of the country.
Third place finisher, with 12.8 percent, was former foreign minister Fernado Andrade backed by an alliance of three center-right parties while The Popular Liberator Party's candidate Asiclo Valladares took fifth place, winning 5.2 percent. Most of the other 14 candidates gained less than 2 percent of the vote.
Results for the presidential elections are based on tallies from 327 of the country's 330 municipalities. Ballots were burned or damaged during civic disturbances in the other three.
The results of the congressional elections differed slightly with PAN taking 35.4 percent of the national vote, the FRG 19.8, Andrade's National Alliance (AN) 12.7, the FDNG 9, and the center-left Democratic Union 4.3. Results for the congress vote are still only partial since, three days after the polls closed, results have still not come in from 47 of the 330 municipalities.
While all the congressional seats under Guatemala's complex allotment system have not yet been announced, it is believed that PAN will enjoy an absolute majority with about 42 of the 80 seats in the house. The FRG is expected to elect 20 - 22 representatives, followed by the FDNG with between five and seven seats. Although the parties of the AN will win about eight seats, the Alliance was a temporary coalition that has now dissolved, with its representatives reverting to individual party control.
Two small parties, the UD and the extreme-right National Liberation Movement (MLN) won one seat each.
Among the prominent popular movement leaders the FDNG elected to congress are human rights activist Nineth Montenegro, Mayan leaders Rosalina Tuyuc and Manuela Avarado Lpez, and Ethnic Communities - Everyone is Equal (CERJ) leader Amilcar Mendez.
The new congress will take office January 15, 1996.
FDNG representatives see their performance in the elections as a victory despite the relatively small number of seats it won, since not only did the party begin late in the game and with limited resources but it also had to combat what they termed an orchestrated smear campaign by the army, government and landlords aimed at scaring off potential front supporters.
The party reports numerous incidences of the army and civil patrollers intimidating rural voters by telling them the FDNG and its supporters were linked to the guerrillas, while the US elections observer delegation says plantation workers in Alta Verapaz told them that their employers warned them they would either be killed or have their genitals severed if they voted for the front.
Despite the wider range of choice in these elections and calls for participation coming from groups as diverse as the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) rebels and the big business association (CACIF), voter turnout was only 46.5 of the registered electorate, down three percent from the 1990 elections.
Lack of transportation was a significant factor in the low voter turnout. Even in the city where transport is readily available, voters had to take as many as four buses to get to their polling stations. The return trip could cost low-income voters as much as half their daily wage.
The shortage and high cost of transportation benefited those parties with the money to provide free transport for their supporters. International observers report that in Quiche province for example, PAN rented at least thirty buses to carry voters from outlying villages to the polling booths.
Another factor influencing the high abstention rate was confusion due to the huge number of presidential candidates running for office (19) and a general disgust for politicians among voters.
"We've tried army officers, evangelicals and catholics and they've all robbed us blind," said one non-voting Guatemala City taxi driver, "Why should I give someone else the chance to rob me?"
SUBSCRIBE TO CERIGUA WEEKLY BRIEFS!
US$ 40/ 1 year individual ---- US$ 75/ 2 years individual
US$ 60/ 1 year institutional -- US$ 110/ 2 years institutional
US$ 80/ 1 year amigo --------- US$ 150/ 2 years amigo
Send check or money order in US Dollars to:
ANI, PO Box 578191, Chicago, IL 60657-8191
(indicate regular or email)
For information not related to subscriptions, please contact our Guatemala office:
Cerigua English Section; 9a Calle "A" 3-49, Zona 1; Ciudad de Guatemala;
Email: email@example.com; Phone/fax: (502-2) 25-519.