Guatemala Nears End Of Chaotic Voting Cycle

Guatemala Nears End Of Chaotic Voting Cycle

By Adrienne Ross

Senior Advisor at Opportunitas Advisors

August 17, 2023

When Guatemalans head back to the polls, Sunday, August 20, for the run-off in the presidential elections, inflation, corruption, and crime will likely be at the top of their minds.  After a controversial first round on June 25th that saw twenty-two candidates in the running to be President Alejandro Giammattei’s successor, the second round now features Guatemala’s former first lady, Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza’s (UNE) conservative candidate Sandra Torres, competing head-to-head with progressive Movimiento Semilla’s Bernardo Arévalo. 

In June, Arévalo, who is 62, emerged as the surprise runner-up despite heading into the elections polling at 3%.  He shot past his competition, locking in 11.8% of the votes.  Only Torres maintained a lead ahead of him with 16.8% support. Arévalo even edged out candidates who had been polling better than him for weeks including ex-diplomat Edmond Mulet, conservative Zury Ríos, and President Giammattei’s Vamos party’s candidate, Manuel Conde.  Now, heading into the second round, Arévalo holds a sizable lead over Torres, according to recent polls


But Arévalo’s unlikely first round win in June spurred immediate and intense backlash from opposition parties that questioned his votes and demanded a review. Once that process was completed and the count upheld, a Guatemalan court then suspended Arévalo’s Semilla party at the demand of the public prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche, who claimed that the signatures required to form his political party were “irregular”.  Against a wave of international protests from the United States, the Organization of American States, the European Union, and other supporters, including Canada and the United Kingdom, the Guatemala Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) ruled that Arévalo’s candidacy could continue, but not before fears about the already compromised state of Guatemala’s democracy had been stoked.   


Despite the TSE’s certification of Arévalo’s votes, Guatemala’s Attorney General María Consuelo Porras has continued to unrelentingly target the Semilla partyPolice have twice raided their headquarters, as well as the TSE’s offices reportedly at Porras’ and Curruchiche’s directions.  Most recently, in July, they seized voter information at the TSE’s office.  In response, the TSE petitioned the country’s constitutional court for an injunction against authorities in an attempt to guarantee election integrity.


Arévalo, who is the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, (Juan José Arévalo, 1945-1951), as well a former congressman who served as the vice minister of foreign relations in the 1990s and as an ambassador to Spain, named Karin Herrera, a professor of biology at one of the country’s public universities, as his running mate.  He has built a campaign platform as a plain-talker willing to confront the country’s out of control corruption and inflation.  In an interview with El Pais English last month, Arévalo explained his plans to promote entrepreneurship by creating venture capital throughout the country’s different economic sectors.  In an AS/COA poll, 29% of Guatemalans polled named “unemployment” as their top concern for the country.  


As for Torres, who is 67 years old, this election marks her third run at Guatemala’s highest office.  (Her fourth, if you count her now ex-husband President Álvaro Colom’s campaign in 2008.)  In 2015, she ran on her own for the first time, and then, again in 2019, she lost to Giammattei in the second-round – each time becoming more aligned with the political right.  Torres offers her country deep political experience and wide name recognition after leading many of her husband’s social programs as the country’s first lady from 2008-2011; programs she has promised to widely expand should she win, including assistance for single moms.  This time around, Torres has chosen evangelical pastor, Romeo Guerra, as her running mate.   


Both candidates vow they’ll keep Guatemala’s abortion ban in place.  Torres, however, recently doubled down on her commitment to keep same-sex marriage illegal, telling a crowd of supporters, “I want to run this country with the fear of God.”


As more than 9 million Guatemalans prepare to ink their vote for the next president, and vice president, these elections will mark an end to a chaotic voting cycle. But regardless of who takes the presidency, democracy watchdogs everywhere will be vigilantly hoping Guatemala’s democracy and integral elections will emerge the clear winners. 

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