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Voters Approve Anti-Corruption Amendments, But Turnout Low

January 31, 1994

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Guatemalans voted out the Congress and Supreme Court in an anti-corruption referendum that drew fewer than one in five voters to the polls.

Opponents of the referendum called by President Ramiro de Leon Carpio said the low turnout showed the public did not support the proposed constitutional amendments.

De Leon Carpio called the turnout ″unfortunate″ but said the vote was nonetheless a defeat for the ″enemies of democracy.″

″The people wanted to get rid of congressmen and magistrates, and now they are going. They wanted constitutional reforms and they have them,″ the president said on national television.

De Leon Carpio, a former human rights lawyer, was named president by Congress last June after an attempt by former President Jorge Serrano to grab total power failed. Serrano fled the country.

Critics say the new president is sincere in wanting to purge corrupt officials, but that the referendum is really a farce in that many members of Congress might simply be re-elected.

With ballots from about half of Guatemala’s cities and towns counted, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said 84 percent were in favor of the amendments, and 16 percent against. About 382,682 votes were cast by 3.4 million voters - a turnout rate of less than 17 percent.

The constitutional amendments would:

-Reduce the president’s term from five years to four and abolish a presidential slush fund;

-Cut the number of seats in the single-house legislature from 116 to 94. The current Congress would be dissolved and a new legislature elected in September.

-Enlarge the Supreme Court from nine justices to 13, and cut the length of their terms from seven years to five. The current court would be dissolved and a new one appointed by the Congress elected in September.

Final results were to be announced within a week. The amendments would take effect in 60 days.

Fernando Bonilla Martinez, president of the election tribunal, said that with ballots from about half of Guatemala’s cities and towns counted, 193,432 people had voted in favor of the changes, 37,270 against.

Some 3,144 ballots were spoiled, and 50,960 were annulled, said Bonilla Martinez. He did not explain the large number of annulled ballots.

Turnout in municipal elections last May was 60 percent.

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