Guatemala’s electoral court issued a resolution to begin the dissolution of the governing political party in what will be a litmus test for the country’s institutions and could leave President Jimmy Morales without a means to sustain his troubled political career.
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral – TSE) spokesman Luis Ramírez announced the unanimous decision of the court’s judges to order Guatemala’s Civil Registrar to begin the process of suspending the National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN-Nación) for its use of anonymous contributions during the 2015 electoral campaign.
In April, the electoral crimes division of the Attorney General’s Office announced that it would petition the TSE to freeze the political activities of the FCN-Nación because it had received at least $2 million in illicit campaign financing, according to recent allegations from former Attorney General Thelma Aldana and a United Nations-backed judicial support organ known as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG).
At least half of that money was allegedly intended to pay for election observers, which are funded by political parties in Guatemala. Some of the most prominent businesspeople in the country provided the funds, which were channeled through the company Novaservicios S.A. and were not registered in the party’s accounts, nor were they reported as a campaign expense.
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Instead, the FCN-Nación only reported 103,706 quetzales (approximately $13,800) were used to pay the election observers, while the investigations revealed that some 8 million quetzales ($1,075,000) were actually spent -- $500,000 in the first round of elections and another $575,000 in the second.
Businesspeople involved in the case testified that Morales suggested they make the contributions anonymously because FCN-Nación could not report any more income to the TSE. The Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG have corroborated their testimony.
InSight Crime Analysis
Although there may be significant institutional pressure from the TSE’s unanimous decision and growing evidence of illicit campaign contributions -- thanks in part to the people who made them -- this is not the first time President Morales has seemed so close to being prosecuted.
In September 2017, in the midst of a struggle by the Attorney General's Office and the CICIG to push forward with an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations involving Morales, Congress voted to protect the president by preserving his legal immunity.
In October of the same year, the Supreme Court rejected another request for a preliminary hearing against Morales for allegedly receiving monthly payments of just over $6,600 from the Defense Ministry.
Despite attempts to pursue him, Morales has so far eluded judicial authorities, making it difficult to assess how the latest move could affect his administration.
The decision on whether to suspend the party that brought Morales to the presidency will rest in the hands of the Civil Registrar. But Director Leopoldo Armando Guerra Juárez is close to the military circles that supported the president, and he has benefitted from both Morales and FCN-Nación in the past.
As former Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana said before completing her term a few months ago, despite previous setbacks, the likelihood of a preliminary hearing against the president continues to grow and has not been ruled out by her successor María Consuelo Porras. However, current Attorney General Porras still has not made a public statement about the TSE’s recent decision.
The general secretary of FCN-Nación has indicated that if the party’s suspension goes forward, it will become more difficult to reach agreements with Congress because, according to him, more than 30 representatives would have to declare themselves as “independents.” FCN-Nación also announced it would take legal action to reverse the TSE decision and accused its judges of being “criminals.”
The growing possibility of Morales’ political party being suspended -- especially given how much Congress has fought to prevent that from happening -- represents a serious blow, not only to his already dwindling political capital but also the legitimacy of his questionable administration.