Guatemala's electoral authority blocks the suspension of President-elect Arévalo's political party

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s top electoral authority said Sunday it blocked the suspension of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo’s Seed Movement, at least temporarily giving the party back its legal status and cutting off an attempt by opposing political forces to weaken him.

The decision by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal came days after the electoral registry suspended the party on a judge’s order. The Attorney General’s office is investigating whether there was wrongdoing in the gathering of required signatures for the party’s formation years earlier.

The tribunal said the suspension could not stand because it did not come from an electoral body. Its decision holds until the official end of the electoral period Oct. 31, because Guatemala’s electoral law does not allow the suspension of a party during the electoral period.

The Seed Movement had also appealed the suspension through the normal court system, but so far without result. It is expected that come Nov. 1, the party could be suspended again.

The c ongressional leadership had already used the suspension of the Seed Movement last week to make its seven lawmakers, including Arévalo, independents, which bars them from leading legislative committees or holding other positions of leadership in the Congress.

Arévalo, a progressive lawmaker and academic, shocked Guatemala by making it into an Aug. 20 presidential runoff in which he beat former first lady Sandra Torres by more than 20 points. Ever since Arévalo achieved a surprise second-place finish among a crowded field in the first round of voting in June, his party has come under attack.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal recognized Arévalo as the winner and outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei has said he will begin the transition, but the Attorney General’s Office has been aggressively pursuing the Seed Movement on various fronts.

On Friday, the head of the Organization of American States’ electoral observation mission said the efforts appear aimed at keeping Arévalo from taking office in January.

Observers inside and outside Guatemala have warned in recent years that the country's democracy is in decline.

President Jimmy Morales, Giammattei's predecessor, expelled the United Nations-backed anti-corruption mission that had made impressive strides in dismantling networks of corruption that divert public monies to their pockets and had allowed drug traffickers to take ever-growing control of the country.

Giammattei weaponized the justice system, turning it against the same prosecutors and judges who had led that anti-corruption fight. His Attorney General and her anti-corruption prosecutor have both been sanctioned by the United States government as undemocratic actors allegedly involved in corruption.

Polls showed Arévalo's party with under 3% support heading into the first round of voting. But his message of taking up once again the corruption fight resonated with a frustrated population facing an array of candidates mostly promising more of the same.

His support expanded exponentially as he headed into the runoff last month. He ran a hopeful outsider's campaign against Torres, who was making her third presidential bid and couldn't shake the status quo reputation she picked up by helping to advance Giammattei's legislative agenda.

Voters spoke loudly, trying to give Arévalo an undisputable margin of victory. But the entrenched political and economic forces that stand much to lose under an Arévalo presidency have not rolled over. And as the president-elect said Friday, there are still four months before he takes office "during which these political mafias will try to consummate the coup d’etat.”


AP writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.