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Guatemala: Progressive Bernardo Arevalo wins landslide

Published August 20, 2023last updated August 21, 2023

Political outsider Bernardo Arevalo appears to have won resoundingly against former First Lady Sandra Torres. The focus now shifts to whether he and his party will be allowed to assume power.

Guatemalan anti-graft presidential candidate Bernardo Arevalo reacts following his victory
Arevalo says he has a plan to fight corruption in Central America's most populous countryImage: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Guatemalan progressive presidential candidate Bernardo Arevalo, an outsider to Guatemala's normal power structure, was resoundingly elected as president, figures showed late Sunday.

Although the preliminary results show a potential landslide for Arevalo, attention has shifted to whether he would be allowed to assume power amid the current administration's attempts to suspend his party's legal status.

With about 99% of ballots counted, Arevalo garnered 58% of the vote compared to 37% for former first lady Sandra Torres, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, who did not run, congratulated Arevalo shortly after the results were released and invited him to begin the transition of power once the outcome is formalized.

Warning from apparent winner

However, Arevalo warned that officials may still try to block his political ascent, and said the weight of his victory should ensure this was not the case.

"We want to think that the force of this victory is going to make it clear that there is no place for the attempts to derail the electoral process," said Arevalo. "The Guatemalan people have spoken forcefully."

His rival, former First Lady Sandra Torres, received 36% of votes and had positioned herself as an ally of Giammattei in her third attempt at the presidency.

Who is Bernardo Arevalo?

Bernardo Arevalo is the son of former Guatemala's first democratically-elected leader, Juan Jose Arevalo.

He ran on an anti-corruption platform and went from being an outsider to a frontrunner in recent opinion polls.

"We all have the right and the privilege to express our opinion to shape the future of the country," Arevalo said after casting his ballot in the capital Guatemala City, according to Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre.

A woman voting in Guatemala
Guatemalans voted in the second round of the presidential election on SundayImage: Sandra Sebastian/dpa/picture alliance

Last month in the build-up to polls, police raided Arevalo's party headquarters in a move he slammed as "political persecution."

The Attorney General's Office said that it was carrying out a court order from July 12 which suspended the legal status of Arevalo's center-left party, over allegations of falsifying signatures when establishing itself in order to compete.

Just days before the presidential runoff, the Supreme Court of Justice granted a permanent injunction to Arevalo's party, blocking the previous suspension order by the lower court.

The attorney general who ordered Semilla's suspension had been previously added by the US State Department to its Engel list of "corrupt and undemocratic actors."

Keeping an eye on results

Regional oversight forum the Organization of American States (OAS) said a team of 86 election observers was in the country to monitor proceedings.

"It is essential that citizens be able to express themselves freely with full guarantees and that their expressions be respected," said Eladio Loizaga, head of the OAS mission in Guatemala on Saturday.

It could be some time before the results are certified. After the first round of voting in June, losing parties got the courts to intervene and order a review of precinct vote tallies, taking weeks for the results to be made official.

Guatemala is Central America's most populous country, and as the region's largest economy, it has been battling with widespread poverty and violence which has forced hundreds of thousands to emigrate over the past few years.

Fleeing poverty in Guatemala

zc, kb/jcg (Reuters, AP, AFP)