Just over a week before the second round of presidential elections in Guatemala, more than half the members of the executive committee of the governing Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party have resigned. Earlier this week, 13 of the committee’s 24 members publicly submitted their resignations, in what the committee’s leadership signaled as a renewal within the ranks of its organization and others suggested was a sign of internal division.
In a statement issued by the UNE, deputy secretary-general Roberto Díaz-Durán said the resignations were meant to open the doors for “new leaders and sectors” in the leadership of the organization. “This does not signify a rupture within the party,” he said, “since some members of the Executive Committee will be renamed to their posts.” The statement also said the UNE remains “united, strong and working for the country’s most needy classes through its 48 elected representatives and 136 elected mayors.”
Some analysts remain skeptical. The political analyst Mario Martínez points to the resignations as “evidence of a weakening of the [governing] party structure.” Others point out that the shake-up in the executive committee will clear the way for Sandra Torres, ex-wife of current president Álvaro Colóm, to be named secretary-general of the UNE execand from there mount a campaign for the 2015 elections. Torres’ candidacy in this year’s election was vetoed by the Guatemalan Supreme Court; the UNE has since thrown its support behind Manuel Baldizón, candidate of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (LIDER) party.
On Sunday, November 6, Baldizón will run for presidency in a second-round vote against retired general Otto Pérez Molina, of the right-wing Partido Patriota (PP), who got 36.1 percent of the votes in the first round.
The Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Court yesterday ruled against Sandra Torres, ex-wife of President Álvaro Colom, in her bid to compete in the country’s September 11 presidential election. The court’s decision was based on legal fraud stemming from Torres’ divorce from Colom on March 11.
The divorce was an effort to bypass a provision in the Guatemalan constitution that bars close relatives of a former president from taking power. Aimed at limiting autocratic rule, the clause dates back to Guatemala’s transition to democracy in the mid-1980s. According to Deputy Christian Boussinot of Torres’ Coalicion de la Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza y la Gran Alianza Nacional (National Unity of Hope—UNE), the party plans to appeal the decision.
Even before the Court’s decision, Torres was trailing behind her presidential rival, former army general and Partido Patriota (Patriot Party) candidate Otto Pérez Molina, by 27 percentage points in an exit poll of 230,000 voters conducted by Prensa Libre and released yesterday. Given the high levels of insecurity in Guatemala, Pérez Molina’s military background and anti-crime platform make him a popular candidate. If Torres had been allowed to run and won the election, she would have become Guatemala’s first female president.