Washington, DC – Tuesday, September 1, 2015, Guatemala’s Congress voted 132 to 0 (with 26 abstentions) to remove official immunity from prosecution of President Otto Pérez Molina amid a corruption scandal that is playing out just as the country heads into its quadrennial elections for president, legislators, and municipal officials. Doing so means that the chief executive may be investigated and tried like any ordinary citizen accused of a crime. However the elections, so far, remain on track.
Wednesday, while the President’s attorneys were still insisting that he had no plans to leave office, Attorney General Thelma Aldana requested his appearance before a judge. He submitted his letter of resignation to Congress later that evening. Vice President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre was sworn in as president for the remainder of the term, which ends on January 14.
How to effectively combat corruption has long been an issue in Guatemala. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was created in 2006 with the support of the United Nations to strengthen the country’s attorney general’s office in fighting corruption. CICIG’s mandate was extended in 2009, and again in 2015 by President Pérez.
The current crisis began in April as the CICIG investigated a customs kickback scheme that predated the current administration. Although a number of accused may be tried and convicted, the fight against corruption will not be over. Massive, peaceful street demonstrations and the outcry of civil society groups joined by the private sector suggest that September’s newly-elected officials could be held even more accountable for their job performance and adherence to the law.
Elections are still scheduled for Sunday, September 6, 2015. Fourteen parties have nominated candidates for president. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote—which is likely—a runoff will take place October 25, 2015.
To read part one of the Guatemala Pre-Election Series click here.Top