May 21, 2024

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Guatemala is headed for a center-left comeback as anger grows over corruption

Guatemala is headed for a center-left comeback as anger grows over corruption

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Two center-left candidates will contest Guatemala’s presidency in a runoff in August after an election marred by four disqualifications and high levels of corrupt ballots failed to produce a clear winner in Central America’s largest economy.

with 98 percent of the votes From Sunday’s election tally, official results showed former first lady Sandra Torres leading with 15.8 percent of the vote, followed by former diplomat Bernardo Arevalo, son of a former left-wing president, with 11.8 percent.

The 67-year-old was running for the country’s largest party, the center-left EU caucus, and expressed optimism when the results came in. Press Conference.

Pre-election polls had suggested Arevalo, leader of the six-year-old Movimento Simila (Seed Movement) party, had no chance of a runoff. “We did not come to win the election. Arevalo said in a statement Posted on Twitter early Monday. “We’re doing well.”

None of the remaining 20 candidates reached even 8 percent of the vote in a fragmented election marked by high levels of voter mistrust. Less than half of Guatemala’s 9.4 million voters cast valid ballots, with 40 percent abstention and nearly a quarter of ballot papers empty or spoiled.

Conservative Party leader Alejandro Giamatti, whose approval rating hovers around 26 percent, is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election. The United States imposed sanctions on the attorney general last year over accusations of “grave corruption”.

Arevalo has presented himself as a “decent and credible” alternative to voters fed up with what is widely seen as a rigged system to reduce the chance of meaningful reforms. He has vowed to make fighting corruption a top priority if elected.

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Will Freeman, Latin America fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said that Torres’ first-place finish was expected due to her control of Guatemala’s largest political machine, but that Arevalo’s success was “a complete surprise.”

He added, “It is a sign that no matter how hard entrenched interests try, they have not been able to suppress the desire of Guatemalans to rid themselves of a corrupt and often predatory political class.” “Arevalo and Simila will now have the opportunity to introduce themselves to a much wider audience.”

Both the United States and the European Union have criticized the banning of candidates by an electoral court accused of making politicized decisions. Carlos Pineda, a businessman who was one of the early front-runners before he was disqualified, urged his supporters to spoil their ballots.

Guatemala has tried to consolidate democracy since the end of its 36-year civil war in 1996, but critics say the quality of government has deteriorated sharply since a UN-backed anti-corruption commission was expelled from the country in 2019.

Dozens of journalists and former anti-corruption officials have fled Guatemala amid a wave of criminal prosecutions, including a recent six-year prison sentence for money laundering against one of the country’s best-known journalists.

Torres is making her third bid for the presidency after a run-off defeat to Giamatti in 2019. She is tied to social programs introduced by her then-husband, President Alvaro Colom, in 2008-12. She was charged in 2019 with campaign finance and illicit association offenses but the case was later dropped.

Analysts said Torres will have to deal with high disapproval rates in the second round, with one poll in April showing more than 34 percent saying they would never vote for her.

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Guatemala’s economy was relatively stable and grew above the regional average in 2022, but high levels of inequality remain, with about half of the population living in poverty. More than 230,000 Guatemalans were found illegally crossing US borders by patrol in 2021 and 2022.