Home / General / Elections of the last few days: Guatemala, Zimbabwe

Elections of the last few days: Guatemala, Zimbabwe


I’m falling down on the job on the election front. First, while I remembered Ecuador in the nick of time, I forgot that Guatemala’s run-off was taking place on the very same day. Readers may recall my entry in this series addressing the first round of presidential elections, and may also notice the name Bernando Arévalo appeared nowhere in my short election preview. It turns out polls were more or less correct about the likely level of support for Sandra Torres, and absolutely nothing else. Instead of Montt and Mulet duking it out for second place, they finished neck-and-neck in a near tie….for 5th place. Second place went to Arévalo, a philosophy professor, former diplomat, political outsider, and son of former president Juan Jose Arévalo, Guatemala’s first democratically elected president who withstood several dozen coup attempts during his presidency in the late 1940’s. Here I will lean on valued long-time LGM commenter Gregor Sansa, who provided the following analysis in comments:

In the first round, all the various right-wing would-be-caciques cancelled each other out, leaving as the two frontrunners (with a combined total well under 50% in the first round):

– Sandra Torres, the ex-wife of a nominally-center-left ex-president. Platform: clientist largesse with a side of “values” and half-baked anti-elitism.
– Bernardo Arévalo, the son of the first democratically-elected president, back in the Democratic Springtime before the 1954 US invasion. Base: left-leaning youth (though he himself isn’t that young).

The “pacto de corruptos”, narcos and ex-militaries and rich people who have been puppeteering the last several administrations and have thoroughly undermined the justice system since kicking out the UN mission against corruption in 2017, would far prefer Torres; but after their misogynist propaganda campaigns against her when she was a candidate in the last few elections, they can’t turn off the hate fast enough. So it looks as if Arévalo will win handily (eg, latest poll has 62% Arévalo, 22% Torres).

While the final result wasn’t quite the blowout that poll suggested, it I think pretty clearly qualifies as a blowout nonetheless: Arévalo ultimately secured a 61-39 victory. The obstacles to peace, stability, and prosperity in Guatemala remain substantial, and Arévalo will still have to work with a congress well to his right, but it’s genuinely difficult to envision a more promising result in this presidential election. The various reactionary forces have attempted some shenanigans between the elections and that might well continue between now and his January inauguration. While they’ve been pretty ineffectual so far and his decisive margin of victory could help inoculate against more of them, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

In addition to missing the Guatemala runoff, Zimbabwe slipped under the radar. On Wednesday, Zimbabwe held their second presidential election since the end of the Mugabe era. Unlike with Guatemala, we can’t discuss the results yet because they haven’t been released. Voting was extended from Wednesday through Thursday as a number of urban polling places did not receive their paper ballots in time for Wednesday voting. (There have been reports of would-be voters sleeping outside polling places in opposition strongholds to ensure their ability to vote in the morning.) This is a rematch of Zimbabwe’s first post-Mugabe election, when ZANU-PF leader (who was Mugabe’s vice president and therefore technically the incumbent) Emmerson Mnangagwa defeated reform candidate Nelson Chamisa by a roughly 6% margin. Reports so far suggest the incumbent ZANU-PF party is once again racking up big leads in rural areas, while voters in Harare and other major cities are strongly supporting the opposition candidate. The Zimbabwe electoral commission apparently withholds detailed results until the counting is complete, which could be any time now from what I’ve gathered.

Much like the first post Mugabe election, it would be fair to say that things haven’t gone exactly swimmingly. From today’s AP story:

Election observer missions from the African Union and Southern African Development Community SADC and African Union Observer Missions openly alleged voter intimidation.

They raised concern over a ruling party affiliate organization called Forever Associates of Zimbabwe that they said set up tables at polling stations and took details of people walking into voting booths. The head of the AU mission, former Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, said the FAZ activities should be declared “criminal offenses.”

The SADC mission said the electoral body ahead of the vote had assured it that all voting materials, including ballot boxes, were “available and ready for use.” The shortage on voting day “has the unfortunate effect of creating doubts about the credibility of this electoral process,” the mission said.

The European Union observer mission and the Carter Center questioned the credibility of the vote, with the Carter Center saying it took place under a “restricted political environment.”

Police on Thursday said they arrested 41 workers with two accredited poll monitoring groups, the Zimbabwe Elections Support Network and the Election Resource Center, and seized their computers. Police accused them of “subversive and criminal activities” as part of an opposition plan to fabricate the results.

But the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the workers were carrying out their mandate as election observers. The group on Friday said police took 35 of those to court, charged under a provision of electoral law that punishes “unofficial or false declaration of results” with up to six months’ imprisonment or a fine. It was not clear why the rest were not charged.

The elections have been tainted by allegations of violence, intimidation and accusations by the opposition and human rights groups that Mnangagwa used the police and the courts to silence dissent, amid rising tensions due to a currency crisis, a sharp hike in food prices, a weakening public health system and inadequate numbers of formal jobs.

Both Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF party, which has ruled for decades, and Chamisa’s Citizens Coalition for Change parties said they were headed for victory.

“It’s a decisive win!” Chamisa said on social media.

“ZANU-PF takes early poll lead,” the state-run Herald newspaper said, basing its report on a few parliamentary results announced Thursday.

The elections body has asked people to be patient and wait for official results.

I don’t know much about the opposition candidate but it seems improbable that a break from ZANU-PF rule, which despite Mugabe’s ouster has been uninterrupted since 1980, wouldn’t good for Zimbabwe. Either way, a relatively violence-free post-election period and (should it apply) transfer of power would itself be a non-trivial win for Zimbabwean democracy.

Tomorrow, we’ll be back on track with a discussion of the Presidential and parliamentary elections in Gabon, which are likely to be marred by some 11th hour rule change shenanigans.

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