Top Guatemalan presidential candidate disqualified ahead of race

Conservative businessman Carlos Pineda lost his final appeal to continue his campaign, one month before voting starts.

A man in a blue collared shirt closes his eyes with emotion as he sings.
Conservative candidate Carlos Pineda sings the national anthem on May 20 after leaving the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City, Guatemala [File: Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

The Constitutional Court of Guatemala has ruled to end the presidential campaign of dark horse candidate Carlos Pineda, with only one month remaining before voting begins.

Pineda, a conservative businessman with a strong social media following, had appealed to the country’s highest court after a judge suspended his candidacy a week ago, citing noncompliance with the country’s election laws.

But the Constitutional Court on Friday upheld the lower court’s ruling, which found that Pineda failed to collect signatures from party delegates and file required financial reports, as required in the nomination process.

That decision provoked a fiery response from Pineda, who had recently emerged as the frontrunner in one election poll.

“Corruption won, Guatemala lost,” Pineda wrote in one social media post.

In another, he said the Constitutional Court had endorsed “electoral fraud” with its ruling: “We are left without democracy!!”

A man, lifting himself above a crowd by propping himself up on a car, reaches out to shake hands with the supporters around him.
Supporters greet Carlos Pineda after he leaves the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, which heard his appeal to stay in the presidential race on May 20 [File: Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

Pineda is the third candidate so far to be disqualified from the presidential race, with the first round of voting scheduled for June 25.

His disqualification follows that of fellow conservative Roberto Arzú on Thursday.

Earlier this year, a left-leaning Indigenous candidate, Thelma Cabrera, was likewise barred from the race after her running mate, former human rights official Jordán Rodas, was deemed ineligible.

Rodas had allegedly failed to produce a letter confirming he had no legal proceedings pending against him, leading a court to rule that his whole ticket — including Cabrera — could not register for the elections.

Critics have decried the disqualifications as politically motivated, intended to weed out candidates seen as unfavourable to the government establishment.

On Twitter, Juan Pappier, acting deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, denounced Friday’s ruling as a “clear instrumentalisation of the judiciary to guarantee an ‘electoral’ result”.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei listens to the first annual report of the second four-year term of Attorney General Consuelo Porras in Guatemala City, Wednesday, May 17
The administration of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has been accused of repressing critical voices in the country, including members of the media [File: Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

The administration of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei has already been accused of stifling dissent in Guatemala.

Earlier this month, ElPeriodico, a 27-year-old investigative news outlet, said it was “forced” to cease its daily publications after “persecution” against its staff “intensified”. Its founder, José Rubén Zamora, had previously been arrested on charges of money laundering and blackmail.

And under Giammattei, an estimated 30 legal experts and anti-corruption officials — including judges and lawyers — have fled the country after his administration pursued investigations against them.

Many of these figures have links to the now-shuttered International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent organisation backed by the United Nations to root out corruption in the country.

Those who remain face potential arrest and prosecution. On Friday, Guatemalan police arrested Stuardo Campos, a prosecutor focused on crimes against migrants who had previously worked on anti-corruption cases.

The far-right group Foundation Against Terrorism had filed a complaint against Campos claiming he had abused his authority.

“This complaint is spurious,” Campos said in response. “I know that my work as an anti-corruption prosecutor earned me animosity in a lot of sectors.”

Giammattei is not eligible for reelection in June’s race, but his conservative party, Vamos, has a candidate competing: Manuel Conde. No Guatemalan political party, however, has ever succeeded in winning back-to-back presidential elections.

On Wednesday, days before his disqualification, Pineda had topped a poll ranking presidential candidates. He led with 22-percent support among voters. On his heels was former First Lady Sandra Torres with 20 percent, followed by Zury Ríos — the daughter of former President Efraín Ríos Montt, who was accused of genocide — and diplomat Edmond Mulet.

Some 30 political parties are expected to compete. Pineda represented the Prosperidad Ciudadana — or “Citizen Prosperity” — party.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies