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The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.



Since the 1996 United Nations sponsored peace accords ended 36 years of civil war in Guatemala, civil and political rights have expanded, but democratic development still faces major challenges. Many Guatemalans, particularly women and indigenous people, continue to be left out of political life and a highly fragmented political party system and weak state institutions have been unable to respond to growing challenges to citizen security.

In an NDI public opinion survey, 42 percent of respondents said they had little or no confidence that the results of the first round election in 2011 reflected the preferences of citizens. More than 80 percent of those questioned supported reforms that would better regulate political parties, strengthen the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s (TSE’s) ability to prevent and punish violations to the electoral law; and establish minimums for women and indigenous people on party candidate lists.

To help address political exclusion, exacerbated in part by lack of access to voting centers, Guatemalan election authorities carried out a campaign to decentralize voting stations prior to the 2007 and 2011 elections to enfranchise rural voters. The effort resulted in women and indigenous peoples voting in larger numbers, which has provided political parties with opportunities and incentives to develop long-term outreach strategies that go beyond their previous focus on urban populations. Some are designing new organizational structures to reach women and indigenous voters and recruit new party members. 

Despite these advances and opportunities, women and indigenous citizens remain underrepresented in government. Of the 158 deputies elected to congress, 21 were women and 18 were indigenous.  Of the 333 mayoral races, only seven women were elected, none of them indigenous. The congressional committees on women and indigenous peoples, together with organized civil society, have proposed legislation that would establish a quota system to boost equal representation of men and women and proportional representation of different ethnicities.

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NDI Programs

Supporting Inclusive Political Participation

Since 2008, NDI has been working with women and indigenous people in Guatemala to boost their leadership skills and opportunities to hold office. The Institute also provides technical assistance to political parties to design and carry out recruitment plans and to better meet the needs of women and indigenous people within the party.

In 2010 and 2011, NDI organized two intensive courses on political strategy and communications for women candidates. The Institute revised and published the curriculum from the course as a manual for prospective women candidates:  “We Are Campaigning” (“Estamos en Campaña”). In 2009, NDI organized a leadership academy in the majority indigenous department of Quetzaltenango for representatives from civil society organizations and political parties.  NDI published guides to help academy participants train others in their communities, parties and organizations. NDI has also held training-of-trainer workshops for outstanding academy participants and trainers from government institutions to help them more effectively reach out to women and include them in the political process. In addition, NDI organized internships with government institutions for academy alumnae.

NDI assists the women’s committee in congress, which has successfully advocated for greater gender equity in the national budget and continues to advocate for a minimum requirement for the inclusion of women on all party candidate lists. In addition, NDI is working with the indigenous committee in congress, along with civil society and party leaders, to better advocate for laws that are a priority for indigenous communities, such as laws that address rural development and sacred lands.

Electoral Reform

NDI supports the Guatemalan Congress as it reforms election law to promote a more credible electoral process and a more representative, democratic political party system. This involves congressional leaders engaging with the TSE and civil society to reach consensus on reforms.  

Congressional Strengthening

NDI is working with congress to make its internal procedures and functions more transparent and effective. This includes helping leaders develop and approve priority legislation—with a particular focus on citizen security and justice—to promote greater public engagement and confidence in the legislative process.

Past NDI Programs

Election Observation 

NDI observed the 1990 elections and monitored the effects of political violence throughout the campaign. NDI's pre-election and election day delegations urged Guatemala to safeguard its citizenry from human rights abuses and seek greater political participation by the country's indigenous people.

In 2003, NDI supported Guatemala’s first nationwide election monitoring effort by Mirador Electoral (Election Watch), a coalition of civic groups. NDI helped Mirador protect the
integrity of the election process by issuing pre-election statements and election day releases that helped hold the TSE accountable to citizens; documenting incidents of political violence, intimidation and coercion for the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office; conducting a statistically based  audit of the voter registry to verify its accuracy; and organizing a national network of observers that collected systematic information on voting and counting processes on election day. On election day, Mirador alerted the TSE to problems with indelible ink and long lines at polling places. The TSE responded by extending voting hours and issuing instructions to poll workers on the proper use of ink to prevent double voting.

In 2007, NDI again supported Mirador’s comprehensive pre-election and election day observation effort, including auditing the voter registry; monitoring election authorities, political parties and media; and a systematic qualitative and quantitative observation on election day, including a parallel vote tabulation (PVT), an independent check of the official election results. Mirador also worked with indigenous partner groups to track the inclusion of indigenous issues in the electoral process.

Partnering with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), NDI supported a comprehensive study of barriers to indigenous political participation in Guatemala. FLACSO and NDI experts used surveys in four communities to research why indigenous citizens vote at a lower rate relative to their non-indigenous counterparts in Guatemala. The 2008 study found that lack of a proper identification card—rather than a lack of interest—was the main reason that Guatemalans across all ethnic groups did not vote.

Leading up to the 2011 elections, NDI supported election observation projects of eight different civic groups, focusing on election-related violence, campaign spending, alleged vote-buying and intimidation, and indigenous and women’s participation. NDI also assisted Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action), a member of the Mirador coalition, to organize a PVT in the first and second rounds.  Following the election, the Institute began working with civil society groups and congress to generate dialogue on electoral reforms such as greater transparency in party financing and greater consolidation of the country’s fragmented political parties — reforms based on the findings from observation projects.

Focus Groups

Following the 1996 peace accords, NDI worked with Guatemalan partners  to learn more about citizen perceptions of democracy and governance through focus groups. Most Guatemalans interviewed emphasized the need to build institutions that encourage citizen participation in the political process beyond elections. NDI helped to disseminate this information to the political parties and civic committees to encourage them to respond to the needs of citizens at the local level.


NDI Guatemala receives funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). 

Contact Information

For more information about these programs, use our contact form or contact:

Washington, D.C.
Sara Barker, Senior Program Officer

Guatemala City
Eduardo Núñez, Resident Director

News and Views
03/27/2013 | The New York Times
News and Views:
Published Publication Title Author
03/06/2014 Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes
National Democratic Institute, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
01/24/2014 Between Challenge and Reality: Women and Political Participation in Guatemala
National Democratic Institute
10/23/2013 Increasing Women’s Political Participation Through Effective Training Programs: A Guide to Best Practices and Lessons Learned
Training Manual
National Democratic Institute
04/03/2012 Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations and Code of Conduct for Nonpartisan Citizen Election Observers and Monitors
04/01/2012 Aproximacion a las percepciones de la ciudadania sobre la compra de votos y la intimidacion de votantes en el regimen politico electoral guatemalteco
National Democratic Institute, University of Notre Dame, Accion Ciudadana
03/01/2012 Estamos en Campaña
National Democratic Institute
10/31/2011 Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guide to Promote Women's Political Participation (Now available in Burmese)
Julie Ballington
09/11/2011 Informes de Mirador Electoral 2011 (Guatemala)
Press Release
Mirador Electoral
05/01/2010 Series on Women's Political Participation (Guatemala)
National Democratic Institute
12/01/2008 NDI Reports: A Review of the Activities of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
National Democratic Institute
10/01/2008 Seven Keys to Change: A Technical, Political and Legal Analysis of the 2007 Electoral Process
Eduardo Núñez Vargas
06/19/2008 Barriers to Electoral Participation in Guatemala: Diagnostic of Four Municipalities
National Democratic Institute
03/01/2007 Political Parties and Civil Society: Working Together to Deliver Solutions to Citizen Concerns.
Erica Breth
10/27/2005 Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Election Observers
05/01/2004 Legislative Public Outreach on Poverty Issues, Parliaments and Poverty Series, Toolkit No. 3
National Democratic Institute United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
05/01/2004 Parliamentary-Civic Collaboration for Monitoring Poverty Reduction Initiatives, Parliaments and Poverty Series, Toolkit No. 2
National Democratic Institute United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
05/01/2004 Legislative-Executive Communication on Poverty Reduction Strategies, Parliaments and Poverty Series, Toolkit No. 1
National Democratic Institute United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
01/01/2003 Audit of the Voter Registry in Guatemala (2003)
Voter Registry Audit
Neil Nevitte
01/01/1997 Perspectivas Sobre El Rol De Los Partidos Politicos Y Los Comites Civicos En Guatemala
National Democratic Institute Graciela Romer y Associados
01/01/1997 Political Parties and the Transition To Democracy: A Primer in Democratic Party-Building for Leaders, Organizers and Activists
National Democratic Institute