The progressive sociologist Bernardo Arévalo has won the Guatemalan presidential elections. The diplomat from the Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement) party won 58%, while former first lady Sandra Torres, from the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, secured 37.2%.
“Today we accept with great humility the victory that the people of Guatemala have given us. The ballots have spoken [...] and what the people are shouting is ‘enough already of the corruption,’” said Arévalo, whose main campaign promise was to fight corruption in Guatemala, in his first statements as president-elect. Arévalo also thanked the people of Guatemala for voting. “Regardless of the option they chose, participating is an act of defending democracy and in this historic moment it was an act of courage for every person who cast their vote,” he said.
Arévalo’s victory consolidates his surprise rise to power. The first signs of his support were seen in the first round of the presidential election on June 25, when he disproved the polls to come in second place. The Seed Movement was founded amid the 2015 anti-corruption protests that swept across the country, and seeks to challenge the traditional way of doing politics. Its steady rise has excited many voters in Guatemala, who saw Sunday’s vote as an historic election to put an end to the creeping authoritarianism the country has seen in recent years.
¡Viva Guatemala! 🇬🇹 pic.twitter.com/Je8DjIEW8X— Bernardo Arévalo de León 🌱 (@BArevalodeLeon) August 21, 2023
Bernardo Arévalo and his team celebrated the victory at the Las Américas Hotel in Guatemala City, where his campaign was following the count. Supporters chanted “Yes we can” as they awaited the first speech of the president-elect. Hundreds of Guatemalans gathered outside the hotel and at the nearby Obelisco Plaza to celebrate the victory of the Seed Movement.
Sandra Torres was scheduled to give a press conference at her campaign headquarters, but it was cancelled. Her last public appearance took place before the polls closed. “We are going to defend the vote; we are concerned about everything that has happened since the first round,” she said, insisting that there were irregularities, but without providing proof.
The current president, Alejandro Giammattei, congratulated Guatemalans and Arévalo, to whom he is to transfer power on January 14. “I extend the invitation to begin the orderly transition the day after the results are made official,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
More than 9.3 million Guatemalans were eligible to vote at Sunday’s runoff, with voter turnout sitting at just over 45%. In a press conference around 8 p.m., Gabriel Aguilera, the head of Guatemala’s TSE election authority, called on political parties to accept the results of the election “with maturity.” “It is worth fighting for democracy and protecting it for future elections,” added Aguilera.
The first celebrations of Arevalo’s victory came from abroad. The results were welcomed by several former prosecutors and judges, such as Francisco Sandoval and Claudia Escobar, who had been forced to flee to the United States for pursuing corruption cases. When it was clear that Arévalo had won, they rushed to congratulate him, with some promising to return to the country.
Arévalo voted before 9 a.m. at La Patria School, located in downtown Guatemala City. When he entered, he was surrounded by a swarm of journalists, supporters and members of the Seed Movement, who cheered: “Future president” and “Long live Arévalo!”
“Guatemalans: now is the time to vote with joy, let’s go vote early,” Arévalo urged after casting his vote with his wife. “Today, like many Guatemalan families, we are hopeful that a better future is coming. May democracy triumph today,” he wrote on X, in a message with photos that showed him having breakfast with his family. After casting his ballot, he went with his mother to her polling station.
Arévalo won the elections with the promise of restoring the Guatemalan institutions, which are overrun by corruption. Close to 60% percent of Guatemala lives below the poverty line, and there are serious deficiencies in the education and health sectors, as well as infrastructure. “We don’t have a magic wand. The country’s problems are not going to be solved in four years, but we can begin to solve them and that is what we have to show,” Arévalo told EL PAÍS ahead of the election.
But doing so will be no easy feat. Arévalo does not have the support of Congress, with the two main governing parties outspoken critics of the Seed Movement. According to political expert Marielos Chang, Arévalo and his party will also have to make a decision on how they hope to stamp out corruption, be it going after those guilty of corruption or creating new mechanisms to put an end to it.
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