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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.



Nearly two decades have passed since the 1996 United Nations sponsored peace accords ended 36 years of civil war. While there has been an expansion of civil and political rights in that time, democratic development in the country still faces major challenges. State institutions face difficulty in effectively responding to threats such as high levels of political violence, opaque campaign finance practices and ineffective electoral oversight regulations. These issues are are compounded by corruption, legal impunity from criminal acts, organized crime, and some of the highest homicide and femicide rates in the world. Many Guatemalans, particularly women, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities and indigenous peoples, continue to be left out of political life. Few women, and no transgender women, have been elected to office, discouraged in part by the threat of violence, discrimination and other cultural factors. Of the 158 politicians elected to congress in 2011, 21 were women and 18 were indigenous.  Of the 333 mayoral races, only seven women were elected, none of them indigenous.

The September 2015 general elections in Guatemala will test the country’s fragile democracy. Despite improvements in legal and electoral institutions, democracy in Guatemala continues to face serious challenges, evident in  negative public perceptions of the country’s electoral system. In a 2013 public opinion poll, Latinobarómetro found that Guatemala remains at the bottom of the list for Latin American countries in terms of support for democracy. Of those surveyed, only 41 percent of Guatemalans supported democracy, a percentage that has fallen five points since 2010. Meanwhile, 24 percent of citizens supported some form of an authoritarian government. The electoral process also lacks widespread support, with only 49 percent of Guatemalans expressing confidence in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Supremo Electoral, TSE) and 48 percent in the outcome of the elections. Citizens also lacked confidence in many public institutions. Only 42 percent of respondents expressed confidence in Congress, 36 percent in political parties and 35 percent in the national police. The political institutions that have the highest level of confidence are municipal governments with 54 percent of citizen confidence, the presidency with 52 percent and the Human Rights Ombudsman (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos) with 51 percent.

The Guatemalan Congress has taken recent steps to reform the political and electoral system with input from civil society. Following the 2011 elections, after much public debate and political negotiations, reforms were preliminarily passed by congress in 2013. Legislators reached consensus on strengthening TSE oversight capacity over party financing, strengthening the internal organization of the TSE by clearly defining judicial and administrative functions,  increasing the geographical reach of political parties, and increasing the amount of state funding for political parties and campaigns to counteract the influence of private donors and illicit funds. The bill was reviewed by the Constitutional Court, which ruled most of the amendments constitutional and requested only minor changes. However, despite these important steps, the legislation is still pending final revisions and approval and the 2015 elections will be administered without the benefit of these reforms to improve transparency and integrity.

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Election Observation

Mirador Electoral

On May 7 and 8, 2015, the Mirador Electoral (Election Watch) coalition launched its domestic election observation efforts. The Mirador coalition is made up of nine civil society organizations, each focusing on a specific aspect of the election process. With NDI technical support, the groups are working together to organize comprehensive pre-election, election day and post-election observation. The coalition will publish regular reports that provide evidence-based recommendations to improve the transparency and effectiveness of the elections.  The Mirador member groups include:

  • Citizen Action (Acción Ciudadana, AC);
  • Collective Association for the Defense of Women’s Rights in Guatemala (Asociación Colectiva para la Defensa de los Derechos de las Mujeres en Guatemala, CODEFEM);
  • NGO Coordination and Cooperatives (Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas, CONGCOOP);
  • Central American Institute for the Study of Social Democracy (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios para la Democracia Social, DEMOS);
  • Association for Development, Organization, Services and Sociocultural Studies (Asociación Desarrollo, Organización, Servicios y Estudios Socioculturales, DOSES);
  • Guatecívica;
  • Central American Institute for Political Studies (Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Políticos, INCEP); PROPAZ Foundation; and National Network for Mayan Youth (Red Nacional de Organizaciones de Jóvenes Mayas, RENOJ).

The groups will conduct focus groups and a national survey to assess citizen perceptions of the primary election-related challenges, monitor the pre-election environment in 52 municipalities, analyze media coverage of candidates to encourage balanced coverage, evaluate and report on the work of the TSE and the National Civil Registry (Registro Nacional de las Personas, RENAP), assess women and indigenous people’s political participation as individuals and groups and how their concerns are being addressed by candidates. Additionally, the groups will observe the voting and counting process on election day through a national network of non-partisan volunteer observers who will conduct a quick count, also known as a parallel vote tabulation (PVT), of election results, and evaluate the elections process, identify lessons learned, propose recommendations for electoral and institutional reforms and help support advocacy on a reform agenda.

NDI’s funding for this project comes from Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Local-level observation: “Less Violence, More Inclusion”

With NDI technical support, Mirador Electoral member Acción Ciudadana is organizing and providing training to a coalition of municipal- and departmental-level civil society organizations to conduct a local observation focused on monitoring and mitigating incidents and triggers of electoral violence, and monitoring illegal and/or illicit campaign expenses. The observation effort is currently focused on 10 municipalities, with a possible extension to an additional 10 municipalities. The target municipalities were selected based on higher levels of electoral conflict, criminal violence and/or organized crime, and social conflict. A team of trained long-term observers will deploy throughout the target municipalities, regularly reporting back to local organizations and to Acción Ciudadana. Acción Ciudadana, with input from the local groups, will analyze the findings and publish timely reports that allow government authorities to respond to certain incidents, thus mitigating further violence, as well as providing evidence-based input into potential reforms following the elections.

A key component of the observation effort is to increase inclusion of marginalized groups, such as indigenous peoples, the LGBTI community and women, in the electoral process. As such, the observation network includes organizations and individuals that represent these historically excluded populations. In addition, effective election observation must also include consideration of ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity as it relates to the election process. The coalition take these considerations into account so that authorities are able to appropriately respond to violence that may disproportionately impact specific groups and to collect data that can be used to advocate for reforms. Increased transparency of the electoral process and greater participation by marginalized and vulnerable groups will contribute to deter violence in the immediate electoral period and can galvanize institutional reforms around campaign financing in the post-electoral period. The observation effort was officially launched during a ceremony in Nebaj, Quiche on May 19.

Past programming on election observation

NDI’s current election observation programming builds off of domestic election observation efforts by Mirador Electoral in 2003, 2007 and 2011. The group’s efforts for those elections included comprehensive monitoring of the media environment, political party behavior, government transparency, indigenous participation and a quick count. Findings from Mirador Electoral were cited frequently in the media and the results of the quick count were highlighted by the TSE as an important confirmation of the official results. In the 2003 elections, NDI helped Mirador alert the TSE to problems with indelible ink and long lines of citizens waiting to vote on election-day. 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, in addition to supporting Mirador’s pre-election and election-day observation efforts, NDI also partnered with Mirador member the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) to conduct a study of barriers to 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 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. Since 2008, the Guatemalan government has made a concerted effort to register women voters, which resulted in an increase of identification cards being issued to women and women for the first time making up the majority of the voter registry in 2011. In 2011, NDI supported election observation projects of eight different civic groups, including the first gender-based observation effort in Guatemala, which highlighted the challenges still faced by women candidates and voters.

Congressional Strengthening

Since 2010, NDI has been implementing programs to provide support to the Guatemalan Congress to improve the political and electoral system and strengthen the transparency and effectiveness of the legislature. NDI supported the Guatemalan Congress as it reformed the electoral law to promote a more credible electoral process and a more representative, democratic political party system. In October 2013, a reform bill passed after three readings in Congress and was sent to the Constitutional Court for review. The court issued a ruling in July 2014 and the reform is now with Congress for revision and a final vote before being sent to the president for his signature. NDI is also working with congress to make its internal procedures and functions more transparent and effective, including helping leaders develop and approve priority legislation to promote greater public engagement and confidence in the legislative process. NDI has specifically focused on providing technical assistance the following areas: 1) reforming the Organic Law to improve the internal functioning of Congress; 2) reforming the Law on Nominating Commissions to increase transparency and improve the process of nominating and appointing unelected government officials; 3) strengthening the capacity of the Commission on Migrants to effectively draft legislation that responds to the needs of migrants; and 4) strengthening the capacity of legislators to draft legislation on security and justice issues.

NDI’s funding for this project comes from SIDA and USAID.

Citizen Security

To increase confidence in democratic institutions and deliver improvements in the quality of citizens’ lives, NDI-Guatemala is working in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to promote dialogue among civil society, political parties and government institutions at the municipal, national and regional levels. Since 2010, NDI has contributed to democratic engagement on citizen security policy by organizing international exchanges of best practices; designing and conducting courses on regional challenges and tools for making effective policy; and assisting municipal actors to develop and implement local violence prevention initiatives. The Institute helps civil society communicate citizen concerns to political leaders while helping parties and governments work with constituents to develop more responsive policies. By building on a common base of understanding and taking into account a diversity of perspectives and regional experiences, leaders are better able to address the root causes of insecurity and bolster democratic institutions.

At the regional level, Central American parliaments developed a priority agenda for harmonizing legislation in 2011 and circulated model laws. In Honduras, a reformed arms law is now under consideration to close loopholes and facilitate future police investigations, a first step toward lowering the level of impunity. Working at the national level in the three Central American countries, NDI has helped increase dialogue and collaboration among civil society organizations by providing a platform for sharing citizen security challenges and opening informal channels of communication among parties. Participants stay linked through a virtual network NDI has helped to establish. As a result of NDI engagement in Guatemala at the community level, municipal citizen security committees are carrying out projects to help parents provide for the needs of their children, connect citizens with public services, and increase women’s involvement in community leadership. In Honduras, NDI-supported citizen security committees are working to complete municipal citizen security policies and have these certified by government—a prerequisite to tapping into national funds collected by a special new security tax levied on all bank transactions.  

For more detail, please click here. NDI’s funding for this project comes from the National Endowment for Democracy.

Supporting Inclusive Political Participation

Supporting inclusive political participation is a fundamental aspect of all NDI programming. In addition to the specific programs described below, NDI mainstreams ethnic, gender and sexual diversity considerations in all projects currently being implemented in Guatemala.

Transgender and cisgender women’s participation

Increasing the number of cisgender and transgender women who participate in the electoral or political process as voters, election officials, observers, civic advocates, political candidates or elected officials contributes to building a more diverse, tolerant and inclusive society that better understands and represents their needs. To address the needs of these communities, NDI, in collaboration with Consortium for Elections and Political Processes Strengthening (CEPPS) partner organizations the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), is working to strengthen cisgender and transgender women's political participation in 2015 and beyond. In 2015, the CEPPS partners conducted a baseline assessment of organizations representing the LGBTI population in Guatemala and barriers to their political participation, with particular emphasis on organizations representing transgender women. Building off of the findings of the assessment, the CEPPS partners are working to create alliances with key government agencies, political parties, legislators, journalists and civic organizations and activists to raise awareness of barriers to political participation facing women and the transgender community and to support their efforts to reduce those barriers. The CEPPS partners are specifically working with TSE and RENAP to ensure that transgender women have access to Personal Identification Documents (DPI) and to full participation in the electoral process. The CEPPS partners are also working directly with cisgender and transgender women to increase their political campaign skills and strengthen their participation in the 2015 elections. Finally, the CEPPS partners are working with civil society groups representing transgender and cisgender women to increase their capacity to advocate for the needs of these communities.

NDI’s funding for this project comes from USAID.

Past programming on inclusive political participation

In response to the findings of the study on barriers to political participation, NDI implemented a five-year program between 2008 and 2012 to provide women and indigenous peoples in Guatemala with tools and resources to boost their leadership skills, run for office and govern effectively. In 2009, NDI organized a leadership academy in the majority indigenous department of Quetzaltenango for representatives from civil society organizations and political parties. In 2010 and 2011, NDI organized two courses on political strategy and communications for women candidates. The Institute published the curriculum from the course as a manual for prospective women candidates: “We Are Campaigning” (Estamos en Campaña). Participants in NDI trainings repeatedly reported that the programs they attended were fundamental in providing them with the skills to participate more actively in political life, including running for office. NDI also assisted the women’s committee in Congress, which successfully advocated for greater gender equity in the national budget and for a 30 percent gender quota that was included in the draft version of the LEPP that was passed by the Congress. In addition, NDI worked with the indigenous committee in Congress, along with civil society and party leaders, to better advocate for priority within indigenous communities, such as the rural development law and the law on sacred lands. Finally, the Institute provided technical assistance to political parties to design and carry out recruitment plans and to better meet the needs of women and indigenous people within parties.

NDI funding for this project came from the NED.  

Contact Information

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

Eduardo Núñez, Resident Director
[email protected]

Sara Barker, Resident Program Manager
[email protected]

Austin Robles, Program Officer
[email protected]

Katherine Conway-Gaffney, Program Officer
[email protected]


Advancing LGBTI Inclusion in Guatemala: “They need to know who we are and that we matter.”09/15/2016
Protesters in Guatemala, 2015
Historic Reform Is A Big Step Forward for Guatemalan Democracy05/19/2016
NDI Regional Director Jim Swigert
NDI Regional Director Jim Swigert Testifies Before Senate Committee on Opportunities for Central America’s Northern Triangle04/21/2016
Debby Sandoval (es)
Defensora de los Derechos Humanos Guatemalteca: Luchar por sus derechos como mujer tras protege los derechos de todas las mujeres03/16/2016
Debby Sandoval
Guatemalan Human Rights Advocate: Fighting for Her Rights as a Transgender Woman Protects the Rights of All Women03/11/2016
Debby Sandoval
Guatemalan Human Right Advocate: Fighting for Her Rights as a Transgender Women Protects the Rights of All Women03/11/2016
Matilde Terraza oversees the quick count call center where field observers call in reports.
For Matilde Terraza, Observing Guatemala’s Elections is Personal11/05/2015
Guatemalans Vote in Record Numbers in Face of Political Uncertainty and Discontent09/24/2015
LGBTI Participation in Guatemala and Nicaragua
LGBTI Groups in Guatemala and Nicaragua Unite for Equality08/05/2015
Protesters in Guatemala, 2015
Protests and Participation: New Avenues for Citizen-Led Reform in Guatemala07/31/2015
Guatemala Citizen Observer Election Intimidation
Keeping Election Observers Safe in Guatemala07/28/2015
Traditional Mayan ceremony at the launch of the observation “Less Violence, More Inclusion”
Guatemalan Groups Launch Election Observations Amid Political Crisis05/28/2015
2014 Andi Parhamovich Fellow Seeks to Help More Guatemalan Women Run for Office04/01/2014
New Report Examines the Reality of Women’s Participation in Guatemalan Politics01/24/2014
Central American Governments Work Together to Increase Citizen Security03/12/2013
Indigenous Woman Becomes Governor in Guatemala06/11/2012
Guatemala Round 2 Elections Photo, 382px
Guatemalan Quick Count Aided Public Confidence In Presidential Runoff Results12/09/2011
Guatemala 382 px
Guatemalan Civic Groups Preparing to Observe Nov. 6 Presidential Runoff10/31/2011
Izabel Francisco
Indigenous Guatemalan Woman Seeks Mayoral Seat with ‘Message of Hope and Opportunity’02/04/2011
El Salvador Public Security Forum
Central American Leaders See Transparency as Key to Public Security10/08/2010
News and Views
09/25/2015 | Foreign Affairs
News and Views:
News and Views
03/27/2013 | The New York Times
News and Views:
Published Publication Title Author
09/21/2016 Votes Without Violence: A Citizen Observer's Guide to Addressing Violence Against Women in Elections
National Democratic Institute
08/11/2015 Primer Informe de Observación Electoral Municipal Guatemalteco - Agosto 2015
Presentación, Comunicado, Reporte
Acción Ciudadana, National Democratic Institute, USAID
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