As this blog series has highlighted, the 2015 Guatemalan elections were unique in many regards. Citizen protests resulted in the resignation and arrest of the president and vice president on corruption charges. Voter turnout was the highest since the return to democracy in Guatemala. The presumptive winner, the runner-up in elections four years earlier who was leading in the polls, failed to make it to the second round. And electoral violence was lower than expected and lower than during recent electoral processes. The question then becomes, what’s next for Guatemala?
A civil society monitor gathers the concerns of earthquake victims in a temporary shelter.
Ordinary citizens and civic organizations become tremendously more active in the community immediately after a tragedy hits their community. This was my experience with my community in Kosovo in the post-war reconstruction in the late 90’s and this has certainly been the case in Nepal after two mega earthquakes last year took close to 9,000 lives, injured more than 22,000 people and destroyed more than 600,000 homes. Nepalis in solidarity with their fellow citizens flocked to help with relief materials, building shelters and reinforcing other people’s homes. The spirit of the community was very high.
Large numbers of Guatemalan citizens are excluded from political life. Indigenous communities are among the most marginalized, as they face both institutional and cultural barriers in the country’s political system. Since the 2006 electoral reforms and during the subsequent three elections, Guatemala has seen important steps forward in terms of increased political participation; however, challenges remain in translating participation into meaningful representation.
Larry Garber meeting with Jose Concepcion Jr, the first chair of NAMFREL on the day before the 2016 Philippines elections
The 1986 Philippines snap presidential election serves as a lodestar for international democratic activists who came of age professionally during the 1980s. The successful People Power Revolution demonstrated the role that electoral participation could play in mobilizing a population to reject a fraudulent process and to overthrow a dictator. And it introduced the international community to such concepts as “domestic election monitoring” and “parallel vote tabulations,” which are now core components of the menu used by democracy promoters around the globe. Indeed, since 1986, Filipino activists have frequently been called upon to share their experiences with those contemplating how best to challenge entrenched authoritarian regimes. I observed these developments in the Philippines first-hand.
For Yesica Hernández, an observer from Quetzaltenango, playing an active role in political life in her country is a civic obligation. At just 24 years old, Yesica has worked with the Central American Institute for the Study of Social Democracy (DEMOS) for nearly five years and already observed two elections. She sees election observation as critical to involving citizens, especially youth, in politics and holding political parties and politicians accountable to the public.
Sehrish Naseem, the 2016 Andi Parhamovich Fellow, at Marietta College Speaking about Young Pakistani Women Leading Transition in Their Society.
One day at breakfast when I was 23 years old I asked my father, “Papa, why is not aunty considering to contest the general elections, even though she is an active member of our community?” A smile appeared on his face and replied, “because if she does our community will stop considering her a woman.” My aunt was not a politician, but as an opinionated and socially active woman with a deep understanding of the issues facing Pakistan, I thought she should be. This was the moment I came to believe that democracy cannot exist without empowered women. And empowerment comes through women’s access to education, health, and employment because it creates space for them to play an active political role.
Macedonia became independent when Yugoslavia disintegrated 25 years ago. Many thought that Macedonia might not survive as a new country. It was in a tough neighborhood, the economy was in tatters, it had little experience with democracy, and there was a strong undercurrent of tension between the majority Macedonian population and a large Albanian minority.
But Macedonia did overcome those early challenges, got to work on its new democracy, and as a result it has progressed toward European Union and NATO membership.
We are living in a time where people are pretty down on Washington. Around the world, the U.S. Congress has become better known for partisanship than as a beacon of democracy. Still, I am proud to be part of a bipartisan group of women senators who are a part of the solution, proving that civility and effectiveness in politics is not a thing of the past.
Equal participation of citizens in politics is essential for strengthening democracy. Citizen participation must be inclusive, representative and intercultural. One of the foundations of democracy is respect for human rights, which includes recognition of individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. And one of these collective rights lies precisely in the use of indigenous languages. This is especially true in Guatemala, where indigenous peoples represent a large and diverse, but frequently marginalized, population.
Louis Enrique Borrayo Hernandez is a young Guatemalan man who learned about the election observation through Association Ixim, the local organization that supported Citizen Action’s (AC) observation in the department of Sacatepéquez, just outside of Guatemala’s capital. We recently spoke with Louis, as well as his colleague Theylor (who preferred that we not use his full name), about why they decided to join the AC network as long-term observers. Their answer was clear: “we wanted to make a difference in our community and our country,” they both agreed.