Guatemalans Elect Anti-Graft Campaigner Arévalo in Landslide

Anti-graft campaigner Bernardo Arévalo won Guatemala’s presidential election in a landslide after pledging to weed out the “systemic corruption” he says keeps the nation mired in poverty.

(Bloomberg) — Anti-graft campaigner Bernardo Arévalo won Guatemala’s presidential election in a landslide after pledging to weed out the “systemic corruption” he says keeps the nation mired in poverty. 

Arévalo led Sunday’s runoff vote with 58%, compared to 37% for former first lady Sandra Torres, with 99.9% of ballots tallied. 

As of 11 p.m. local time, Torres hadn’t conceded. Her party UNE published a statement saying that there had been irregularities in the electoral process and that it would wait until the details of the vote had been made clear “with total transparency” before deciding whether to accept the result.  

The electoral authority may take several days to certify the result if allies of Torres now mount legal challenges. However, President Alejandro Giammattei called to congratulate Arévalo in a sign of institutional support. 

Arévalo, a 64-year-old sociologist and former diplomat, stayed in the race through repeated attempts to disqualify his party, which led US officials to warn that democracy was under threat in the country. He pledged to double public investment to build roads, ports and airports and seek an investment grade credit rating within two years by improving the rule of law. 

“We are a government that is born from a full-frontal attack on corruption,” Arévalo told supporters in his victory speech. “Corruption has penetrated various institutions and areas, and our our job is going to be to try to recover those areas.”

Read more: Presidential Frontrunner Seeks Investment Grade for Guatemala

If Arévalo’s win is confirmed by the electoral authority, he’ll be sworn in on Jan. 14. But he faces an uphill battle as prosecutors investigate his Semilla party for allegedly forging signatures and laundering money during its founding. 

If prosecutors are successful in annulling his political party, Semilla lawmakers won’t be able to join legislative committees, posing challenges to his ability to govern. Arévalo says he’s under attack by corrupt actors who are threatened by his anti-graft stance. 

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said this month that he had received an assurance from President Alejandro Giammattei that there would a peaceful transition of power to the winner.

In neighboring Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador congratulated Arévalo. 

Israeli University

The son of Juan José Arévalo, Guatemala’s first democratically-elected president, Bernardo Arévalo was born in 1958 in Montevideo, Uruguay, where his father was living in exile. 

He studied sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and also earned a doctorate from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He has authored books about post-conflict societies and the role of the military in Latin America.

He served as deputy minister of foreign affairs and ambassador to Spain in the 1990s and worked on peace-building missions in Geneva, before being elected to congress in 2019. He has six children.

Barclays Plc said in a note this month that the next administration will likely preserve the country’s low debt levels and macroeconomic stability.

In order to govern, Arévalo will find he needs to seek allies for a government of national unity, which will make it hard to achieve major changes to the nation’s economic model, said Dionisio Gutierrez, a business leader who runs the think tank Foundation for Liberty and Development, speaking in an interview. 

(Updates with Arévalo’s victory speech, reaction of Torres’ party, analyst comment)

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