The official ballot for President and Vice-President in the 2015 Guatemalan General elections included 14 participating parties. Source: Soy502 and the Tribunal Supremo Electoral de Guatemala
Posted by Vaclav Mašek, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. This post was written in the spring of 2018, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant.
Following a 36-year armed conflict, which culminated with the Acuerdos de Paz Firme y Duradera (“Peace Accords on Long and Lasting Peace”), Guatemala’s transition to democracy signified the beginning of free and open elections. A new Constitution came into effect in 1984, and twelve years later, the Peace Accords made the ceasefire official between the insurgent guerrillas and the Guatemalan armed forces. While today the strengthening of the political institutions in the country has shown little progress in accountability and transparency—4 out of the 5 last presidents have been accused or sentenced in high-profile cases of corruption—, a lively multiparty system has emerged: in 1995, 19 parties contested in the presidential election, although only one party remains active until today. Twenty years later, in 2015, 14 political parties participated in the presidential contest, where the winner was candidate with no prior experience in public administration running on a party that had never succeeded in having members elected to any position in government.
A particular trend seems to have consolidated in this dynamic process of political alternation: no single party has gained enough traction to secure continuity in the executive. More surprisingly, as the 1999, 2003, and 2015 Guatemalan elections show, some parties that have proved successful in winning the presidential ballot have disappeared from the political map. Populist tendencies, exercised through the practice of clientelism to gain the voter’s gratitude in exchange for a vote, seem to have co-opted both sides of the ideological scale.
May the combination of a multiparty system and a presidential system be inimical to stable democracy in Guatemala? What effect does this have in the way the political system is organized and political parties created? How does the myriad options affect the way Guatemalan citizens cast their vote—and how they do politics in general?
Between March 6th and March 17th, 2018, I travelled to my home country’s capital, Guatemala City, to interview a dozen of engaged Guatemalans. Individuals featured include prominent scholars and political scientists, journalists and political commentators, former statesmen and current government bureaucrats, and activists and lobbyists, whom I talked about issues related to Guatemala’s multiparty system.