Guatemala May 16 1999

Theme/ Question

Constitutional amendments including granting rights to indigenous people such as official recognition of the languages and dress of Guatemala's 24 Indian groups and  consultation of the indigenous groups before legislation affecting them was passed

Eligibility to vote and electoral design

The 47 reforms were divided into four broad categories and required voters to vote on each category separately. No separate majorities of indigenous non-indigenous were needed.

Supporters vs. Opponents

The passage of the reforms was supported by all of Guatemala's major political parties.  While publicly supporting reforms in order to please the international community, the ruling Partido de Avanzada Nacional (PAN) called on its party bases to vote no. After strongly opposing the reforms in Congress last year, the opposition FRG tried to make political gains by deciding to support the reforms at the 11th hour, a move seen merely as part of its electoral strategy. The FRG then blamed the outcome on the government.

Against Liga Pro Patria—a civil rights organisation which convinced the constitutional court to suspend one of the reforms before the referendum—and Acción Reconciliadora Democrática (ARDE), under ther leadership of Francisco Bianchi, a protestant priest and presidential candidate.


Of the 4.1m registered voters, 9.4% voted no and 7.5% voted yes to the four questions (turnout was only 18.5%). The strong no vote in Guatemala City (68% of those who voted here rejected the reforms) helped to sway the outcome.

Other relevant information

Defeat of the reforms represented a setback for the peace process in Guatemala following the 36-year civil war. (assassinations reported)

Facts on File World News Digest, <>.
Economist Intelligence Unit, Country Reports
Lexis/Nexis & Factiva
Interviews with Policymakers

Suggested Citation: Neophytos G. Loizides, Referendums in Peace Processes Dataset, Queen's University Belfast (available online at