Guatemalans Vote for President in Election Slammed by the US

Guatemalans vote for president on Sunday after an acrimonious campaign marred by prosecutor raids on the electoral authority and criticism from the US government.

(Bloomberg) — Guatemalans vote for president on Sunday after an acrimonious campaign marred by prosecutor raids on the electoral authority and criticism from the US government. 

Anti-corruption campaigner Bernardo Arévalo has been the frontrunner since defying polls in the June first round to win a place in this weekend’s runoff. He faces former first lady Sandra Torres who campaigned on boosting welfare spending for the poor.  

Arévalo, 64, has clung on amid repeated attempts to disqualify his party and overturn the result, which led US officials to warn that democracy was under threat in the country. The son of a former president, he has promised to create a special cabinet to weed out corruption and increase oversight of government spending in Central America’s largest economy. 

All major polls show him with a wide margin over Torres. 

Since reaching the runoff, Arévalo has been investigated by prosecutors who allege his political party, Movimiento Semilla, forged signatures and laundered money during its founding. A lower court ordered the party’s suspension in July, but the country’s top judges overturned that ruling. Arévalo blames corrupt officials who he says are threatened by his anti-graft stance. 

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said this month that he was worried about Guatemala’s democratic institutions, but that he had received an assurance from President Alejandro Giammattei that there would a peaceful transition of power to the winner. 

The ongoing investigations could potentially undermine Arévalo’s ability to govern if elected, and Semilla lawmakers could be prevented from joining legislative committees if courts annul the political party, said Marielos Chang, a political analyst and professor at Guatemala’s Universidad del Valle. Prosecutors said they will continue to investigate Semilla and that more arrests are likely after the vote.

Investment Grade 

His top economic adviser Jonathan Menkos said an Arévalo administration would double public investment to 1% of gross domestic product to build roads, ports and airports and seek an investment grade credit rating within two years by improving the rule of law. 

Torres, 67, in her third bid for the presidency, has promised cash transfers to single mothers and food handouts for the country’s poorest families. She said she would crack down on crime by copying strategies from El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has used emergency powers to lock up tens of thousands of alleged gangsters. 

Her top economic adviser, Ramón Fion, said a Torres administration would also pursue an investment grade credit rating and cut taxes. 

Guatemala’s overseas bonds have returned 1% this year. Barclays said in a note this month they expect the country’s fiscal deficit to widen gradually in the coming years, but that the next administration will likely preserve the country’s low debt levels and macroeconomic stability. 

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 6 p.m local time. The winner will be sworn in on January 14. 

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