The event was broadcast live by TV cable channel Guatevision throughout Guatemala and audiences in Central America, USA and Canada. The forum was the first of its kind since Morales, from the Front of National Convergence (FCN-Nation), and Torres, of the National Unity of Hope (UNE), made it through to the second round of the General Elections due to be held on 25th of October.
“A Free Dialogue with the Presidential Candidates” provided an opportunity for the two contenders to answer questions from students representing the five largest universities in the country, and to share their plans for government with special invited guests that included members of the private sector, civil society, the clergy and representatives from the countryside. The candidates also responded to inquiries from the social networks using the hashtag #YoCuidoMiVotoGT.
Jimmy Morales (centre-right) explained that his plans revolve around four major areas that include; legal certainty for investments that can generate productive jobs, transparency in the social programmes that assist the poorest, implementation of completely open bidding processes in public procurement exercises, and a coherent strategy to leverage the country’s finances. Morales emphasised his image as a new politician who aims to distance himself from traditional politicians that have disappointed many Guatemalans, especially the younger ones, in previous administrations.
Sandra Torres (centre-left) highlighted her plans to help younger people access new jobs through special programmes that will teach them new skills, offered to make public spending more transparent to the public, and said that her party is in favour of legal reforms that could lead Guatemala’s political parties to a new era of transparency and accountability. Torres explained that she represents the voice of an experienced politician that can help the country overcome one of its most important moments – both politically and financially, to date.
The candidates also answered a series of quick-fire questions that sought to find out their views in a number of subjects ranging from the death penalty, same-sex marriage, and Guatemala’s longstanding territorial dispute with Belize. Both candidates agreed on the need to strengthen the country’s security and justice systems, and work together with the international community in areas that could help Guatemala to improve the rule of law and protect individual freedoms.
The purpose of the association between Prensa Libre and the British Embassy was to discuss and learn about ideas and concrete proposals from the presidential candidates on the future of young Guatemalans, as well as defend freedom of expression as an instrument of democracy. A summarized and recorded version of the forum (in Spanish) can be viewed here.
To mark this unique event, the British Ambassador to Guatemala, Thomas Carter, said:
This year we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the document which sets out the fundamental elements of democracy and which is now used as the basis of democratic government across the world. We believe that the young people of Guatemala have much to contribute in the democratic process, not only as representatives of the country’s future, but also as crucial players in the winds of change that have made history this year in Guatemala. I commend the presidential candidates for accepting this opportunity for dialogue with young Guatemalans, many of who will be voting for the first time.