(update: Jimmy Morales won slightly less than 24% of the vote in the Sept. 6 presidential election, according to Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal. That was good enough for a first place finish, but far shy of the simple majority a candidate needs to win the presidency outright in the first round of voting. Morales will now face either embattled incumbent-party candidate Manuel Baldizón or former first lady Sandra Torres, both of whom finished with slightly less than 20% of the vote, in an Oct 25 runoff. With 98.9% of the votes tallied as of 8 a.m. on Sept. 9, Torres has a slight advantage over Baldizón, but a recount is expected.)
Guatemalans will head to the polls today in what’s probably the country’s most meaningless presidential election ever.
With seemingly the whole political class under suspicion or investigation for corruption or some other type of mischief, former comedian and relative political newcomer Jimmy Morales appears to be a possible frontrunner, if Guatemalan polls are to be trusted – and they’re not. In any event, the quipster’s unlikely rise to the head of the pack is mostly the result of addition by subtraction as the other candidates fall off around him due to their perceived ties to past or ongoing corruption scandals. It also raises the question: if a comedian wins the presidential election, does that make Guatemala's democracy a farce?
Still, the funnyman’s leader status is anything but funny for Guatemala’s awakening grassroots democracy. Many young people are calling for a boycott of today’s election under the hashtags #NoQueremosElecciones (We Don’t Want Elections) or the slightly more unruly #EnEstasCondicionesNoQueremosElecciones.
The basic argument for those calling for a boycott or protest vote is that electing a new president from a pool of candidates picked by the same corrupt political establishment that has pushed the country to the brink of ungovernability is – to use a tired but helpful cliché – like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.
With recently resigned President Otto Perez Molina under arrest for allegedly leading a massive customs tax fraud that deeply permeated his government, Guatemala’s ship of state needs to be brought into port for a massive overhaul and compass realignment; simply changing the helmsman isn’t enough.
En fin, the popular protest that has pushed this Central American nation to where it is today is not done yet. Today’s elections were never the goal of the protest movement. And even forcing the president to resign was just the first step in a push for wider, systemic reforms.
Now that Guatemalans have had a taste of success –and a frightening glimpse of the monster that is corruption lurking in the muck of their political system—the call to protest is more poignant than ever.
Guatemalans may elect a new ‘president’ today. But that’s not news. The real story is yet to come.