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Monday, May 17, 1999 Published at 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK

World: Americas

Guatemalans reject reforms

The rights of indigenous Mayans were a referendum issue

By Mike Lanchin in Guatemala

A majority of voters in Guatemala has rejected a series of constitutional reforms that would have given recognition to the rights of the majority indigenous population and limited the role of the all-powerful army.

Only a fifth of the electorate turned out to vote, but with results still coming in, the opponents of the reforms were winning by more than two to one.

The reforms formed part of the 1996 peace settlement, which ended 30 six years of civil war.

Polling confusion

It is still too early to predict the full implications of the results of Sunday's referendum.

A mixture of poor information, bad organisation and general confusion at the polling stations is being blamed for the low turnout - a record, even for Guatemala's poor standards of electoral participation.

In the capital city, only around 20% of voters bothered to turn up. The turn-out was as bad, if not worse, in the countryside, where most of the majority Mayan indigenous population lives.

Many people who did go to vote reported being confused by the absence of a party symbol on the four different ballot sheets they were being presented with.

Observers say that while the low turnout shows a continuing lack of faith in the political system in Guatemala, the resounding defeat for the reforms is a serious blow to the three-year-old peace process.

Opposition to peace settlement

The two-to-one victory for the "no's" shows that there is still a sizeable group of citizens opposed to the changes established by the 1996 peace settlement, which was signed by the conservative government and the Leftist guerrillas.

Compliance with many aspects of the peace accords has already slowed down, especially changes affecting the powerful military.

The constitutional reforms would have severly restricted the army's role in public security.

They would also have disbanded the paramiltary presidential guard, which has been accused by human rights groups of repeated abuses.

With presidential elections now scheduled for November, many analysts here say it will be up to the next government to work out what to do next.

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