In a stunning rebuke to Guatemala's conservative political establishment, Bernardo Arevalo, an anticorruption crusader and sociologist, won the presidential runoff election on Sunday. With 98 percent of votes counted, Arevalo secured 58 percent of the vote, while his opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, received 37 percent. This victory marks a watershed moment for Guatemala, a country known for its high levels of migration to the United States and its history of corruption scandals. Arevalo's win is seen as a break from the traditional ways of doing politics in the country.
Arevalo, a polyglot sociologist from the upstart party Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), campaigned on a platform centered around fighting corruption and promoting transparency in government. He vowed to focus on governance and criticized the previous governments that were engulfed in scandal. His focus on graft resonated with voters who were tired of the corruption that has plagued Guatemala's democracy.
One voter, Mauricio Armas, expressed his belief in Arevalo and his party, stating that they "seem like people who are not connected to criminal activity." Arevalo's campaign drew support from urban professionals and emphasized the need for economic development, job creation, and improving infrastructure. He also promised to address Guatemala's high levels of poverty and inequality through programs aimed at job creation and agricultural production.
In contrast, Sandra Torres campaigned on issues such as crime, opposing the legalization of abortion, gay marriage, and marijuana. She supported increasing food assistance and cash payments to the poor, and emphasized her commitment to security, promising to emulate the gang crackdown led by El Salvador's conservative president, Nayib Bukele. Torres, who is the former wife of ??lvaro Colom, Guatemala's president from 2008 to 2012, has been a prominent figure in Guatemalan politics but has been unsuccessful in previous presidential bids.
The election took place against a backdrop of concerns over Guatemala's institutional fragility and the expansion of President Alejandro Giammattei's control over the country's institutions. Giammattei, who is prohibited by law from seeking re-election, congratulated Arevalo and extended an invitation for an orderly transition of power. However, there have been reports of threats against judges and election officials, raising concerns about potential interference with the voting process.
The Biden administration, along with other Latin American governments, has urged Guatemalan officials to ensure a fair and transparent election. The runoff was seen as a critical test for Guatemala's democracy and its ability to address issues of corruption and impunity. With Arevalo's victory, there is hope for a new era in Guatemalan politics, marked by a commitment to fighting corruption and improving governance. Full official results are expected in the coming days.