Guatemala’s Left-Wing Turbulent Campaign Finale

Guatemalans choose their next president on Sunday between two social democrats, at the end of a campaign dominated by attacks against the polls’ favorite, the unexpected Bernardo Arevalo, who has promised to tackle corruption, and the doubts about the bias of the ballot launched by her rival Sandra Torres.

Qualified to everyone’s surprise, Bernardo Arevalo, 64, son of the country’s first democratically elected president, Juan José Arevalo (1945-1951), promised to follow in his father’s footsteps to improve education, combat violence, poverty and tackling corruption.

“We have been the victims, the prey, of corrupt politicians for years,” he said when closing his campaign. “To vote is to say clearly that it is the Guatemalan people who run this country, and not the corrupt.”

Three times unsuccessful candidate for the presidency, Sandra Torres, 67, former wife of former left-wing president Alvaro Colom (2008-2012), focused her campaign on the fight against criminal gangs and poverty thanks to food aid and training programs.

According to a poll on Wednesday, Bernardo Arevalo, sociologist and former diplomat, was credited with 50% of the voting intentions, ahead of Ms. Torres, communicator and businesswoman, with 32%.

In the home stretch, Ms. Torres said on Friday “to question this electoral process”, saying that she was “concerned by any alteration of the data” for counting the votes by the authorized persons of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

The TSE “is it impartial, is it objective or does it belong to Semilla?”, wondered the leader of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, mentioning the movement of her rival, during a press conference preceding his closing of his campaign.

Whoever he is, the winner will put an end to 12 years of right-wing governments, including that of outgoing Alejandro Giammattei, after four years of a non-renewable mandate marked by repression against magistrates and journalists who denounced corruption.

“In Guatemala, Bernardo Arevalo is presented as the option of political change” against Sandra Torres who “assumes a position of defense of the traditional system of the last decades”, underlines with AFP Arturo Matute, at the head of the Guatemalan Gobernalisis Institute.

“If this is confirmed at the polls and the election is not” marred by fraud, “it will be a great hope for a democratic and transparent institutional reconstruction”, estimated with AFP Francisco Rojas, rector of the University for Peace (UPEACE).

– The prosecution against Arevalo –

Although both candidates are center-left, the Public Ministry has stepped up proceedings against Bernardo Arevalo, raising suspicions against Guatemalan elites, seeing him as a danger to their interests since his spectacular breakthrough on June 25 in the first round of the election.

On the advice of the prosecution, a judge ordered the suspension of his party, for alleged irregularities during its creation in 2017.

The Constitutional Court had suspended this decision but the services of the Attorney General searched the headquarters of the party in July.

On Friday, the Supreme Court overturned that stay order.

“The court unanimously accepted the appeal of the political party Semilla, which renders its suspension ineffective,” Supreme Court spokesman Rudy Esquivel told reporters.

Mr. Esquivel told AFP that this decision guarantees “the participation of Semilla in the (electoral) process of the second round”.

On Thursday, prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, sanctioned for “corruption” by Washington, announced possible arrests of Semilla leaders, not ruling out “raids, arrest warrants, requests for waiver of immunity after August 20 “.

International community and analysts consider the actions of the prosecution as an attempt to remove Mr. Arevalo from the ballot.

The head of the US State Department for Latin America pleaded Friday for a vote “as part of a free, fair, transparent and peaceful process”. “The real power of democracy lies in respecting the will of the people,” said Brian Nichols on X (ex-Twitter).

Three decades after the end of its brutal civil war, Central America’s most populous country is mired in poverty, violence and corruption, driving thousands of Guatemalans to emigrate every year. Ten of the country’s 17.6 million people live below the poverty line, according to official statistics.

The new president will take office on January 14, 2024.

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