Guatemala Crisis Deepens as Officials Claim Election Invalid

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(Bloomberg) -- Guatemala’s political crisis deepened after prosecutors called for the invalidation of Bernardo Arevalo’s presidential election victory, only for the nation’s electoral authority to immediately reject their claims.

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Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office said Friday that they had found a series of “irregularities” that demand the vote be annulled. The country’s top electoral judge, Blanca Alfaro, asserted in response that the results were “validated, official and immutable.”

The dispute will only intensify concerns about Guatemala’s transition of power as Arevalo prepares to take office next month. The calls to nullify the results marked a sharp escalation of prosecutors’ attempts to cast doubt on the electoral system, efforts the US and Organization of American States have denounced as a threat to Guatemalan democracy.

During a three-hour news conference, prosecutors José Rafael Curruchiche and Leonor Eugenia Morales Lazo said they found altered vote counts inside ballot boxes, as well as vote tally sheets that did not comply with official electoral regulations.

“This investigation is of the entire electoral process and, in our point of view, it should be annulled,” Curruchiche said. “This affects all the political parties and all the candidates.”

Morales Lazo added that ballot boxes were not properly secured after the vote and that a software system used to count the votes was bought “in a suspect way” and likely “compromised the regular operation of the electoral process, giving way to the violation of information that generated irregular results.”

She said the allegations should invalidate the results of the election for president, vice-president and congress.

Prosecutors said they intend to submit the claims to Guatemala’s electoral court for review. But Alfaro, who heads that body, said afterward that the case must first be sent to a lower court, and that only the constitutional court can order electoral authorities to invalidate the results.

Alfaro added that Arevalo has already received his presidential credentials.

Arevalo and his vice-president “must take office on January 14, otherwise there will be a breaking of the constitutional order,” she said.

Prosecutors have questioned the election process since July, when they conducted the first of several raids on the offices of Guatemala’s electoral authority. They confiscated ballot boxes in a separate raid in September.

Read More: Guatemala Prosecutors Open Door to Arresting President-Elect

Arevalo has faced repeated attempts to prevent his inauguration, which is scheduled to take place Jan. 14.

Prosecutors on Friday also alleged that his political party, Semilla, forged signatures and laundered money during its founding and requested that his immunity from criminal prosecution be revoked. Prosecutors have also sought to revoke his immunity in a separate case for an alleged violent takeover of the University of San Carlos.

Congress voted last week to revoke immunity of four electoral court magistrates and investigate them for alleged irregularities. The magistrates fled the country.

The moves have been condemned by the US government and the Organization of American States, with the US placing sanctions on individuals it says have interfered with the transition of power.

Arevalo has characterized the challenges as a slow-motion coup attempt led by corrupt actors who are threatened by his victory. He called protesters into the streets on Thursday, demanding that the government respect the transition of power.

(Updates with comments from electoral judge)

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