Guatemala’s electoral court insisted Friday the results of elections won by anti-graft candidate Bernardo Arevalo were “unchangeable”, after the prosecutor’s office sought to annul them amid accusations of an “attempted coup.”
Political outsider Arevalo, who is slated to assume office on January 14, has faced an onslaught of legal challenges since his surprise second-round election victory in August, including attempts to suspend his political party and stop him from taking power.
The 65-year-old’s triumph and his pledge to fight graft are widely seen in Guatemala as alarming to the establishment political elite.
On Friday, prosecutor Leonor Morales said investigations have concluded that the election of Arevalo, his vice-president and parliamentarians was “null and void” due to counting “anomalies” in the first round in June.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) responded by saying “the results are validated, formalised and unchangeable.”
TSE president Blanca Alfaro told reporters the elected officials must assume office in January as planned or else there would be “a breach of the constitutional order.”
In Washington, the Organisation of American States secretariat in a statement said it “condemns the attempted coup d’etat by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala.”
“The attempt to annul this year’s general elections constitutes the worst form of democratic breakdown and the consolidation of a political fraud against the will of the people,” the statement added.
The OAS urged outgoing president Alejandro Giammattei, the constitutional and supreme courts and Congress “to defend the institutions and constitutional order of the country by taking action against the perpetrators of this attack in order to preserve democracy in Guatemala.”
Arevalo, speaking at a news conference, called the actions of the prosecutor’s office an “absurd, ridiculous and perverse coup d’etat.”
He called on Guatemalans to “energetically defend” the country from efforts by Attorney General Consuelo Porras and senior prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche to impede his taking power.
“The coup perpetrators are trying to destroy the democratic regime and put an end to the basic right of Guatemalans to live in freedom,” he said.
Porras, Curruchiche and Judge Fredy Orellana — who had ordered the suspension of Arevalo’s Semilla (Seed) party — are all on a US list of “corrupt actors.”
Curruchiche was present at Friday’s press conference, saying “the information that was recorded in the closing and counting act at all polling stations should be annulled.”
This “criminal information” would be submitted to the TSE, he said, for a final decision.
The tribunal has already certified Arevalo’s election, but last month it suspended his party for a second time over alleged irregularities with its registration. That investigation is led by Curruchiche.
On Friday, Judge Alfaro said the prosecutor’s office had no authority to make the TSE annul an election.
This could only be done through an order from the Constitutional Court.
“Our president is... Bernardo Arevalo and our vice-president Karin Herrera,” said Alfaro.
The moves against Arevalo and his party have ignited mass protests by Guatemalans demanding the resignation of the three officials.
Arevalo pulled off a major upset by advancing to the runoff after a first round marked by apathy among voters.
Poverty, violence and corruption push thousands of Guatemalans abroad every year in search of a better life, many to the United States.
The United States, European Union, UN and Organisation of American States have all expressed concern over the events in Guatemala.
The top US diplomat for Latin America, Brian Nichols, said on social media that Friday’s actions by prosecutors were “another blatant, unacceptable attempt to defy the will of Guatemalans.”
“Such actions jeopardize Guatemala’s market-friendly reputation & will be met with a strong US response.”
Rights groups have increasingly expressed concern over what they say are efforts to crack down on prosecutors and journalists in an apparent bid by the government to protect a corrupt system benefiting those in power.
Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arevalo speaks during a press conference in Guatemala City on Friday. (AFP)