GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Friday to undo changes to the legal code that would have had the effect of shielding party leaders and candidates from prosecution for violations of campaign-finance laws.
All 130 members present voted in favor of the “immediate and definitive” scrapping of the measures they had approved just two days earlier.
Leaders of the different blocs in Congress agreed at an emergency meeting Thursday to kill the changes, which sparked widespread criticism, court challenges and the threat of a presidential veto.
Under the amendments Congress made Wednesday to Article 407 of the Criminal Code, party chiefs and candidates could not be held criminally responsible for campaign-financing violations.
The lawmakers also modified another section of the criminal code to make prison sentences of up to 10 years for certain crimes – compared with five years previously – susceptible to commutation though payment of a fine.
Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas, who had filed a challenge at the Constitutional Court, and Guatemala’s business community blasted the surprise congressional move, while President Jimmy Morales said Thursday he would consider vetoing the legislation.
Legislators endured verbal abuse and – in a few cases – jostling from protesters when they arrived at Congress for Friday’s session.
On Monday, Congress shielded Morales from prosecution for alleged illegal financing during his successful 2015 election campaign, a vote that came after a legislative committee had recommended that his immunity be stripped.
Guatemalan prosecutors and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) had leveled the accusations against Morales, who rose to power on an anti-corruption platform.