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Center-left leading in Guatemala election marked by voter anger over corruption

Former first lady Sandra Torres had nearly 15% of the vote with 77% of ballots counted. The big surprise was the strong performance by Bernardo Arévalo, the son of a former president, who might face her in an August runoff

Presidential candidate for the National Unity of Hope Sandra Torres casts her vote during the first round of Guatemala's presidential election.
Presidential candidate for the National Unity of Hope Sandra Torres casts her vote during the first round of Guatemala's presidential election.CRISTINA CHIQUIN (REUTERS)

With 77% of ballots counted, Guatemala’s former first lady Sandra Torres was leading after the first round of the presidential election held on Sunday. The candidate for National Unity of Hope (UNE) received close to 15% of the votes, followed by Bernardo Arévalo, of the Semilla (Seed) Movement, a party that came together during the democratic spring of Guatemala and who surprised analysts by attracting more than 12% of the votes.

If the tendency holds, Torres and Arévalo would face each other in a runoff on August 20. The vote count, which is being carried out manually, has progressed slowly.

Third place went to Manuel Conde, of the ruling Vamos party, followed by Armando Castillo, representing Vivir. The diplomat Edmond Mulet and former congresswoman Zury Ríos, daughter of dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, were trailing in fifth and sixth place shortly after 1:00 a.m. local time.

Bernardo Arévalo en un acto de campaña de Semilla el 21 de junio.
Bernardo Arévalo at a campaign event by his Semilla party on June 21.Moises Castillo (AP)

“We do not know with whom, but we are prepared to win the election and for me to be the first female president of Guatemala,” said Sandra Torres at a news conference held at midnight in which she took for granted that she would go to the second round. The former first lady also criticized the slowness of the count, despite the investment made by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to improve the tallying system.

Bernardo Arévalo and his running mate, Karin Herrera, also held a press conference before midnight, in which they pointed out that this preliminary result reflects a strong rejection of the way politics has been done in Guatemala up to now. “We believe that the electorate was fed up, tired of the corrupt political system,” said the candidate. “And they were looking for a decent and credible alternative.”

Arévalo earned a congressional seat in 2019 as part of the Semilla party, which was formed as a political response to citizen demands in 2015 rejecting the widespread corruption uncovered by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). He is the son of former president Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, who governed from 1945 to 1951 in a post-revolutionary and reformist administration.

In this first round, a considerable number of spoiled ballots was another sign of Guatemalans’ weariness with the corruption that pervades various levels of government. and with a campaign marked by allegations of fraud and the exclusion of three leading opposition candidates. The preliminary tally showed 17.4% of null ballots, more than the share of valid votes that any candidate received.

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