Guatemala electoral authorities suspend President-elect Bernardo Arévalo's party

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GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The electoral body in charge of regulating Guatemala’s political groups, known as the Citizen Registry, announced the suspension Thursday of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo’s Seed Movement party.

A judge had granted the party’s suspension at the request of the Attorney General’s Office back in July, shortly before Arévalo was declared the second-place finisher in the initial round of voting. But a higher court ruled that the party could not be suspended during the election cycle, which only ended Oct. 31.

Arévalo went on to win a runoff in August and is scheduled to take office in January.

However, since the original judge’s order for the party’s suspension remained pending, the Citizen Registry said Thursday it executed the order.

The Attorney General’s Office has alleged wrongdoing in the way the party collected the necessary signatures to register years earlier. Observers say Attorney General Consuelo Porras is trying to meddle in the election to thwart Arévalo and subvert the will of the people.

Luis Gerardo Ramírez, the registry’s spokesperson, said the party cannot hold assemblies or carry out administrative procedures.

Ramírez also said the party could appeal the registry’s decision to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, but since the order came from a judge the appeal would need to go through a court.

“The suspension is unprecedented, no criminal judge could suspend a party because it’s illegal,” said Samuel Pérez, leader of the Seed Movement’s lawmakers in the congress. “The problem is that the judge’s suspension isn’t legal, it’s political.”

The U.S. State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Eric Jacobstein told journalists during a visit to Guatemala Thursday that the party’s suspension was worrisome as an apparent way to interfere to with Arévalo’s transition to office.

It remained to be seen how the order would affect other institutions such as Congress, where Seed Movement lawmakers were supposed to eventually take their seats.

Opponents of the Seed Movement in Congress already had declared those incoming lawmakers independent, meaning they could not chair committees or hold other leadership positions. A court at the time had ruled that the Congress couldn't deny Seed Movement lawmakers leadership positions on grounds that the party couldn't be suspended during the election cycle.