Guatemalans vote under shadow of US migration deal | News | DW | 11.08.2019
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Guatemalans vote under shadow of US migration deal

Polls have closed in Guatemala. Citizens were voting to elect a new president who will face a major challenge after the country inked a controversial migration pact with the US administration of President Donald Trump.

Polls have closed in Guatemala, where voters were choosing a president who will inherit a controversial migration deal with the United States.

Guatemala, which shares a border with Mexico, has been a transit country for people seeking to migrate to the United States via Central America.

Read more: US, Guatemala ink migration deal on Central American asylum-seekers

Guatemala has a poverty rate of nearly 60%, according to the World Bank, and though it has not been plagued by the violence in neighboring Honduras and El Salvador, the homicide rate remains high.

About 8 million people were eligible to vote in Sunday's election. Polls opened at 7 a.m. (1300 UTC). Results are expected early Monday.

A headshot photograph of Sandra Torres on the left, with a headshot photograph of Alejandro Giammattei on the right

The presidential runoff pitted former first lady Sandra Torres (l) against opinion poll frontrunner Alejandro Giammattei (r)

Giammattei the favorite

Two candidates were vying for the position: Alejandro Giammattei and Sandra Torres.

Giammattei, who was making his fourth bid for the presidency, was running for the conservative Vamos party. Known for a "tough on crime" stance, he campaigned on reintroducing the death penalty. He has also endorsed socially conservative policies, strongly opposing gay marriage and abortion.

Torres, who was once married to a former Guatemalan president, heads the Unity for Hope party (UNES) and has focused her campaign on improving education, health care and the economy.

Read more: Guatemala civil war victims reject amnesty for perpetrators of violence

In a CID-Gallup poll conducted between July 29 and August 5, Giammattei came out as the favorite garnering 39.5%, compared to 32.4% for Torres.

Voters say they are concerned about migration, but also crime, unemployment, the rising cost of living and entrenched corruption.

The latter is a particularly pervasive issue. Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested on charges of graft, after leaving office.

Current President Jimmy Morales decided to disband and bar a UN anti-corruption commission after he became a target for alleged campaign finance violations.

Watch video 01:42

Guatemala to elect president after tumultuous campaign

'Third safe country'

Last month, Morales authorized an agreement with the US administration of President Donald Trump designating Guatemala as a "safe third country."

This would mean that Salvadorans and Hondurans will be able to request asylum in Guatemala if they cross through the country on their way to the US. The US can also turn away asylum-seekers who have passed through the Central American country without seeking refuge there. 

The deal could bring an influx of migrants to Guatemala, which is ill-prepared for such a development. The winner of Sunday's vote will have to decide whether to maintain or nullify the pact. 

The agreement has proved unpopular in Guatemala, with demonstrators blocking roads and occupying the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City in protest.

In a poll carried out by Prodatos for the Prensa Libre newspaper, some 82% of respondents opposed the agreement.

Guatemala itself has experienced emigration toward the US and as a result, remittances play an important role in its economy. At least 1% of Guatemala's population of some 16 million has left the country this year.

jcg/jlw (Reuters, AFP, AP)

Watch video 02:04

US and Guatemala sign agreement to restrict asylum cases

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