Electoral/Political Party Reform: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace

Agreement on Constitutional Reforms and Electoral Regime (Stockholm, 7 December 1996)

II. Electoral Regime

Whereas:

Elections are the essential instrument for the transition which Guatemala is currently making towards a functional, participatory democracy,

For that purpose, Guatemala has, in the form of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, an independent institution of recognized impartiality and prestige which is a key element in safeguarding and strengthening the electoral regime,

It is necessary to increase citizens' participation in the electoral process and to overcome the phenomenon of abstentionism in order to strengthen the legitimacy of public authority and consolidate a pluralistic, representative democracy in Guatemala,

The level of electoral participation is the result of many different social and political factors, including the impact of civil institutions on the daily lives of Guatemalans, the capacity of political parties to fulfill people's expectations, the degree of organized participation by citizens in social and political life and their level of civic education, all of which are elements which the package of peace agreements already signed seeks to strengthen.

The electoral process is marred by specific shortcomings which impede the effective enjoyment of the right to vote. These shortcomings include citizens' lack of reliable documentation, the absence of technically prepared electoral rolls, difficulty of access to registration and voting, lack of information and the need for greater transparency in election campaigns.

This Agreement seeks to promote legal and institutional reforms which will remedy those shortcomings and constraints and, together with the other peace agreements, help to improve the electoral regime as an instrument of democratic transformation.

The Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (hereinafter referred to as "the Parties") have agreed as follows:

Electoral Reform Commission

1. Recognizing the role of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in safeguarding and strengthening the electoral regime, the Parties agree to request the Tribunal, through this Agreement, to establish and preside over an Electoral Reform Commission charged with publishing a report and making a series of recommendations on electoral reform and the corresponding legislative amendments.

2. In addition to its Chairman, who would be appointed by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Commission would consist of one representative and one alternate for each of the political parties with representation in Parliament and two members and their respective alternates to be appointed, at its discretion, by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. The Electoral Reform Commission would receive all such support and advisory services as it considered necessary.

3. It is recommended that the above Commission be constituted no later than three months after the signing of the Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace and that it complete its work no later than six months from the date of its establishment. In order to achieve its objectives, the Commission would have to encourage an extensive pluralistic debate on the subject of Guatemala's electoral regime.

4. As a minimum, non-restrictive agenda for modernizing the electoral regime, the Commission would consider the following items:

(a) Documentation;
(b) Electoral rolls;
(c) Voting;
(d) Transparency and publicity;
(e) Information campaign;
(f) Institution-building.

Basic proposals

5. In connection with these items, the Parties agree that, in keeping with the efforts being made to strengthen the electoral process, they would put forward for consideration by the Electoral Reform Commission the following basic proposals:

Documentation

6. Given that lack of reliable documentation is an obstacle to the implementation of the various phases of the electoral process, the Parties consider that it would be useful to introduce a single identity document, with a photograph of the holder, which would replace the present local identity card and which, as an identification document for all civil matters, would also serve for elections. Such a document would be issued by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, through the National Registry. To this end, the appropriate reforms of the Elections and Political Parties Act and the Civil Code would be undertaken.

7. As a contribution to the next general elections, it would be extremely important and useful for all citizens to use the new single identity document.

Electoral rolls

8. Bearing in mind the need to steadily improve the electoral rolls which the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is responsible for compiling and updating, the Parties consider that it would be useful for the Electoral Reform Commission to study ways of ensuring that deaths and changes of address are recorded systematically.

9. In order to establish electoral districts within each municipality, with their own electoral roll, where necessary, to facilitate voting, it is proposed that the Commission should recommend the reform of the Elections and Political Parties Act to ensure that the electoral rolls are based on place of residence.

10. The Electoral Reform Commission should examine ways of facilitating citizens' access to voter registration centres and of ensuring that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has the resources to expand its coverage in rural areas.

11. Taking into account the new functions of the Guatemalan armed forces, as set forth in the Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society, and considering the Parties' shared objective of promoting the broadest possible participation of citizens in the electoral process, the Commission is invited to examine the desirability of granting, in the future, members of the Guatemalan armed forces on active duty the political right of voting in Guatemalan elections.

Voting

12. It is necessary to facilitate citizens' access to voting centres. To that end, the Parties propose that, based on the electoral rolls, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, in consultation with political parties, should identify the places in which voting centres are to be set up within municipalities; such places would be those which have large numbers of residents living a long way from the municipal capital and which are also accessible to party poll-watchers and electoral observers. Voting centres should correspond to a municipal electoral district with its own electoral roll, thereby avoiding any problems which might otherwise arise from having a common municipal electoral roll for all voting centres.

13. The Electoral Reform Commission should study and propose the necessary legislative and/or administrative changes to facilitate the participation of internal migrant workers in elections, which currently coincide with the period of seasonal migration of labour.

Transparency and publicity

14. In order to promote greater transparency in the presentation of candidates by assemblies of political parties, action should be taken to ensure that all party members are informed of the convocation and holding of the general assemblies of political parties. The Electoral Reform Commission could examine whether compliance in convoking and holding the assemblies of political parties might be verified as a matter of routine by the National Registry or whether it would be useful to amend the law to enable the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to supervise effectively the convocation and holding of assemblies of political parties, as well as their results.

15. In order to ensure transparency in the financing of election campaigns and that voter preference is not supplanted by spending power, the Parties consider that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal should have the power to set a ceiling for campaign spending by each presidential candidate in the mass media. It is recommended that consideration be given to the possibility of providing and facilitating the use of media time and space free of charge for all parties on an equal footing.

16. Parties and candidates should be compelled to make available such accounting records and reports as may be required from them by the National Registry in order to verify that their sources of funding are lawful. The calculation of campaign spending should include, at market prices, any advertising donated to the parties during the election campaign.

17. It would also be useful to promote a reform of the Penal Code to characterize the acceptance of illicit campaign funding as a crime, establishing that anyone who receives or authorizes the receipt of such contributions for the funding of political organizations or election campaigns is guilty of such a crime. The reform would establish the corresponding criminal penalties.

Public information campaigns

18. The increasingly active participation of citizens in the electoral process is a guarantee of the legitimacy and representativeness of the elected authorities. This objective would be more easily achieved if ongoing campaigns to educate, motivate and inform citizens were carried out. The Electoral Reform Commission would examine the possibility of conducting information campaigns to:

(a) Explain the importance of the right of citizens to vote and to be elected;
(b) Encourage and promote the timely preparation of electoral rolls;
(c) Provide information on how to vote, the documents to be presented at voting tables and centres and the hours during which voting takes place;
(d) Provide information on how to organize civic committees or join a political party.

19. In order to ensure that these campaigns are effective, account would have to be taken of the importance of using the various languages of indigenous peoples, as agreed in the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Institution-building

20. In order to strengthen the electoral regime, the Parties agree to request the Electoral Reform Commission to design a programme for modernizing the National Registry. Such a programme, with the corresponding activities to train and professionalize the personnel involved, would permit the automation of data and their incorporation into coordinated networks so that electoral rolls could be effectively cross-checked, maintained and updated.

21. Bearing in mind the role of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in the electoral reform proposed in this Agreement, the Parties consider that it would be helpful if the Electoral Reform Commission were to analyse what resources the Tribunal requires in order to function efficiently, particularly in order to perform its ongoing functions in the areas of voter registration, preparation of electoral rolls and public information campaigns. The executive branch, for its part, will review the Electoral Reform Commission's analysis of such resources and take whatever action it can to strengthen the operations of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Agreement on the Basis for the Legal Integration of the URNG (Madrid, 12 December 1996)

III. Elements of the Integration Programme

B. Political area

33. The Parties undertake to promote a climate of tolerance, openness and plurality which will foster reconciliation and understanding.

34. After the signing of the Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace, URNG members, like all other citizens, shall enjoy the full exercise of all their fundamental rights and freedoms (including freedom of organization, movement and residence and the right of political participation) and shall pledge to fulfill all their duties and obligations.

35. The Government considers that the transformation of URNG into a political party duly accredited with the corresponding bodies is a contribution to the strengthening of the rule of law and to the consolidation of a pluralist democracy.

Implementation History

1997

Intermediate Implementation

The accord calls for certain electoral reforms to be made, but also mentions that a commission to be established to "consider" such improvements as:

(a) Documentation;
(b) Electoral rolls;
(c) Voting;
(d) Transparency and publicity;
(e) Information campaign;
(f) Institution-building.

The extent to which each of these items were considered is difficult to asses. The accord definitively stipulates that the URNG be allowed to become a legal political party. The URNG began the process of establishing itself as a legal political party on 18 June 1997, and its members reached an agreement on its new structure on 30 August 1997.1

  • 1. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/757), February 4, 1998.
1998

Intermediate Implementation

No development observed this year.

1999

Intermediate Implementation

During its monitoring of the constitutional reform referendum held on 16 May and general elections 7 November, MINUGUA received many complaints of threats against candidates, party members, and officials in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.2

Several shortcomings related to voter registration and political party registration were noted regarding the elections. The results of both elections, however, were generally respected. The general elections were the first in which the URNG participated as a legitimate political party and the elections also saw increased participation of women and indigenous peoples.3

  • 2. “Tenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/54/688), December 21, 1999.
  • 3. “Eleventh Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/174), July 26, 2000.
2000

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2001

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2002

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2003

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2004

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2005

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.

2006

Intermediate Implementation

No further developments observed.