Results of yesterday's national elections were surrounded by confusion today as the official Guatemalan government candidate for president put himself forward as an early winner while his two chief rivals cried foul.
With only a small fraction of the vote counted this morning, Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara, the former defense minister, appeared before reporters to shouts of "Viva el presidente" from campaign aides. Guevara thanked voters "for the great confidence" he seemed convinced they had expressed for him at the ballot box.
The general's news conference came only hours after charges of outright electoral fraud were made by the extreme right-wing candidate Mario Sandoval Alarcon and by Alejandro Maldonado, the lone moderate in the election who ran with the support of Guatemala's assassination-decimated Christian Democratic Party.
The two opposition candidates based their charges on the glacially slow--and selectively announced--tabulation of Sunday's national vote and what they claimed were a string of irregularities in transmission of results from the country's 22 provinces to the capital of Guatemala City.
The secretary of the election commission, Hector Augusto Villatoro, told foreign journalists that there was still no tally of how many of Guatemala's 2.3 million eligible voters had gone to the polls.
Villatoro said that by mid-afternoon only 383,360 votes had been tabulated, which would represent about 16 percent of the country's eligible voters. Of these votes, the commission's count showed Guevara ahead with 143,440 votes, or 37 percent. Sandoval was second with 105,415, or 27 percent, followed by Maldonado with 96,000 votes, or 25 percent.
The fourth candidate, architect Gustavo Anzueto, was far behind, as had been expected.
The accusations of fraud, which were rejected by a government statement at midday, openly challenged the credibility of outgoing president Romeo Lucas Garcia. Under U.S. pressure to clean up his country's image so as to faciliate American economic and military support of his guerrilla-besieged Central American nation, Lucas had promised last week that the elections would be "pure, free and clean."
Defense Minister Rene Mendoza met this afternoon with the four vice presidential candidates to hear their views about how the election was carried out. To those who claimed fraud, he said their recourse was to state their case before the country's electoral tribunals.
Guatemala has a long history of electoral fraud and election reversals by the armed forces, who have been the arbiters of politics here since the overthrow of the leftist regime of president Jacobo Arbenz by a CIA-organized coup d'etat in 1954.
The Reagan administration, appalled by the Lucas government's human rights record but concerned about an increasingly active insurgency by four leftist guerrilla groups, had encouraged Guatemalan officials to hold democratic elections. The hope has been that the elections would produce a government willing and able to restrict widespread killing of civilians throughout the country, which even U.S. Embassy officials here acknowledge is often caused by the armed forces or by right-wing "death squads" that are often tolerated and protected by the government.
U.S. estimates were that last year alone an average of 300 persons per month died in political violence around the country. That number has jumped to more than 500 a month this year.
Today, as the carefully nurtured image of democratic elections here appeared to crumble, U.S. officials privately expressed uneasiness while officially refusing to make any comment. U.S. concern was evidenced by the fact that Ambassador Frederick Chapin refused to let embassy officials brief journalists about the elections today.
U.S. officials had previously indicated that a victory for Guevara, the candidate selected by the armed forces as Lucas before him, would have made it difficult to convince critics in the U.S. Congress that real change was at hand in Guatemala.
Both Sandoval's National Liberation Movement and Maldonado's Opposition Union coalition claimed that despite an apparently high voter turnout and seemingly correct voting procedures at local polling stations where observers were present, the results were being manipulated and falsified, especially in outlying rural districts where the Army and the government were often able to carry out tabulations and the transmission of results unobserved.
"This is the most scandalous fraud in Guatemalan history," declared the National Liberation Movement's vice presidential candidate Lionel Sisneros in a press conference attended this morning by his running mate, Sandoval. Sisneros protested that the government was announcing Guevara victories even in areas, such as the western provinces, that have long been Sandoval's traditional strongholds.
Maldonado, in a separate press conference, said that despite private information he had received showing a victory by his coalition in all urban centers where there were voting concentrations, the results were being "manipulated." He said that reports from often isolated rural outposts with no independent supervision were pouring in with Guevara majorities that often exceeded the total registered vote for the communities.
The vote for the country as a whole presented by the electoral commission contrasted with the final Guatemala City vote, which showed Maldonado winning with 36 percent of the vote to Guevara's 25 percent, a figure that reinforced Opposition Union party claims that the urban votes supported their candidate.
Independent observers here who are acquainted with the ways of previous votes said that the rural vote appeared to be "the traditional delivered vote that the government has always been able to pull out." The sources said that the large turnout--the exact magnitude of which the government has yet to quantify--was as much the result of intimidation and coercion as of outright vote falsifications.
Opposition Union spokesman Edmund Mulet said among the many irregularities marring the election results was the fact that his party's central headquarter's 22 phone links to party poll watchers in the provinces had remained cut throughout Sunday night.
Although the phone links were restored this morning, long distance calls to provincial capitals remained all but impossible.
Mulet also charged that two of his poll watchers in the town of Chinautla, only 20 miles from the capital, had been detained and threatenn rM +z y."
Many independent observers of Guatemalan politics in the capital remained skeptical, however. Guevara's election, said one foreign businessman who has lived in Guatemala for years, "will mean the country will be governed by the same group of people with the same crap, and the same corruption."
Under the Guatemalan constitution, if no single candidate for the presidency gains an overall majority, it remains for the outgoing national Congress--where Guevara supporters have a strong majority--to pick the next president from among the two leading candidates.