Anti-corruption candidate Arevalo wins Guatemala’s presidential

Surprise favorite Bernardo Arevalo was swept to victory in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday, with his anti-corruption message firing up weary voters.

Arevalo scored 59 percent of the vote, with 95 percent of ballots counted, according to official results from the TSE national election body.

His rival, the former first lady Sandra Torres, came in second with 36 percent of the vote as of Sunday night.

Arevalo pulled off a massive upset after defying opinion polls and coming in second in the first-round election in June.

Ahead of Sunday’s vote, observers and foreign allies had sounded the alarm about meddling and efforts to undermine the electoral process, after a top prosecutor tried to have Arevalo disqualified and ordered raids on his party offices and the election body during the campaign.

After a first round marked by low turnout and invalid votes, the TSE reported “a historic turnout percentage” at the close of Sunday’s voting, without giving details.

Fed-up voters expressed despair over the poverty, violence and corruption that have crippled the Central American nation, pushing thousands of its citizens to emigrate in search of a better life, many to the United States.

“You can no longer live anywhere, because there is so much crime,” complained 66-year-old housewife Maria Rac, an Indigenous Mayan who voted in the town of San Juan Sacatepequez, 30 kilometers (20 miles) west of the capital.

Truck driver Efrain Boch, 47, voting in the same town, pleaded with the new government to tackle corruption.

Arevalo, the son of the country’s first democratically elected president, Juan Jose Arevalo, has slammed the plague of corrupt politicians on the campaign trail.

“We have been the victims, the prey, of corrupt politicians for years,” Arevalo, a 64-year-old sociologist and former diplomat, said. “To vote is to say clearly that it is the Guatemalan people who lead this country, not the corrupt.”

The prosecutor who has targeted him, Rafael Curruchiche — sanctioned by Washington for corruption — said he did not rule out more raids and possible arrests after the elections.

– A ‘risk’ to the system –

At the close of voting, the TSE reported no “significant incidents” during the day.

Torres, from a traditionally center-left party, promised welfare programs and various subsidies for the poor.

However, she had also won the backing of the right and evangelicals, increased her socially conservative rhetoric, and was seen as representing the establishment.

“Traditional political forces have bet on Torres, because Arevalo is seen as a risk to the continuity of the system,” political analyst Arturo Matute told AFP ahead of the results.

Mayan farmer Brigido Chavix, 57, said he did not support Arevalo, “but I voted for him because we want new faces.”

“That lady (Torres) has already been around for a long time talking about policies, policies, and she has never carried them out.”

Torres, 67, the ex-wife of late leftist president Alvaro Colom, has failed in her third attempt to become president.

Ahead of the results she had denounced “some irregularities” during Sunday’s voting, without giving evidence.

Before the election, she raised doubts about the objectivity of the country’s electoral board, accusing it of leaning toward Arevalo’s party.

She had dismissed Arevalo as a “foreigner” because he was born in Uruguay while his father was in exile.

– ‘Corrupt’ taken control –

Arevalo will replace unpopular right-wing President Alejandro Giammattei, who is constitutionally limited to one term.

Under Giammattei, several prosecutors fighting graft have been arrested or forced into exile. He has also cracked down on critical journalists.

The corrupt “have progressively taken control of all state institutions,” former attorney general Claudia Paz y Paz — who is now in Costa Rica — told AFP.

Guatemala has some of the worst poverty, malnutrition and child mortality rates in Latin America, according to the World Bank.

The murder rate is one of the highest in the world, with many killings attributed to gang violence related to drug trafficking.


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