Bernardo Arevalo, a 64-year-old sociologist, anti-corruption campaigner and son of former president Juan Jose Arevalo, defied the doubters to take the top spot in the first round of Guatemala’s presidential election last month.
He came in second to former first lady Sandra Torres with just under 12% of the vote, a result experts say is tantamount to crushing it in a race where no candidate won more than 16% of the vote.
Arevalo did so, among other things, because several more popular candidates – both right-wing and left-wing – who represented a challenge to the status quo were barred from running on various alleged technicalities. And partly because, with nearly a quarter of all ballots blank, his left-of-center Seed Movement party likely benefited from public dissatisfaction with the other candidates.
Now election deniers are casting unfounded doubts about the results. Eventthe US government has warned about possible efforts to interfere in Guatemala’s presidential election results. What’s more, the election in the small Central American nation of nearly 17 million could have a decisive impact in a region so closely tied to the United States and key to securing its southern border.
The Biden administration may be in a bit of déjà vu.
After all, they have already had to contend with a surge in migrants triggered by the outcome of the presidential election in neighboring Nicaragua – when President Daniel Ortega locked up dozens of political opponents ahead of his country’s 2021 presidential election.
Here’s the skinny.
What is Bernardo Arevalo’s appeal?
Arevalo seemed to strike a chord with young voters by being sincere and sticking to his academic roots, though it wasn’t those qualities that ultimately catapulted him to the second round.
“He is the least populist guy you can imagine. His interviews are all explanations with about six bullet points in them. There are no slogans. He is almost painfully devoid of slogans and other messages. There are no TikTok videos,” said Will Freeman, a Latin America fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank. (Conservative businessman Carlos Pineda, one of the presidential candidates barred from the ballot for alleged violations of election law, had used the video-sharing app to become an early front-runner.)
Why is Guatemala’s vote count delayed?
Independent election monitors said there were few signs of error in the June 25 vote.
Guatemala’s Supreme Court nevertheless agreed to freeze the formal certification of first-round results following allegations of counting irregularities by 10 of the 29 parties that fielded candidates. Torres’ right-of-centre National Hope Unity party was among those challenging the count.
Freeman said the intervention was likely a delaying tactic by Guatemala’s “establishment factions” aimed at casting doubt on the vote’s integrity. He said these factions “that have controlled Guatemala’s politics for a long time” are “buying themselves some time” to coordinate in case Arevalo, who has promised sweeping anti-corruption reforms, emerges victorious in the second round. a serious possibility.
Arevalo has said he fears “criminal political groups” could try to block him from the presidency.
“Cries of fraud are repeating them in the United States after President Biden’s victory in 2020, although with the entire legal system on their side, Guatemala’s election denialists have a better chance of making it,” Anita Isaacs, Rachel A. Schwartz and Alvaro Montenegro, all experts on Guatemala, wrote in an essay in New York Times on Thursday.
What is happening now in the Guatemala vote? Will there be a second round?
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ordered a review of any area with disputed vote counts.
It has given itself five days to compare these tallies with the preliminary results from the first round, meaning it should come to a conclusion at the end of this week or early next, although it has not ruled out a total recount of ballots.
As of July 7, the Associated Press reported that a new look at the district’s summary sheet seems to have succeeded the original vote total.
Lucas Perello, a professor at Marist College who studies political parties and democracy in Latin America, said that despite the certification delay, he expected the top two vote-getters from the first round to eventually advance to compete in a second round of voting, which currently scheduled to take place on August 20.
“Guatemala will either get continuity,” he said, referring to Torres, 67, a seasoned political operative who has faced corruption charges and hopes to become Guatemala’s first female leader in her third presidential run. “Or it will change under Arevalo,” whose father was president before his successor was toppled in a CIA-backed coup in 1954 that set the stage for a civil war and decades of endemic corruption.
What does the vote mean for emigration flows, US border policy?
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that if the results of the first round were undermined, it would represent “a serious threat to democracy with far-reaching consequences.”
It can have a much more specific effect.
More than 220,000 Guatemalans crossed into the United States via the Mexican border in 2022, according to to Border Patrol numbers. In June, the United States and Guatemala announced a pilot program intended to “address the historic challenge of irregular migration that affects both countries.”
The move was part of the Biden administration’s push to limit migration and asylum seekers.
End of title 42:Biden leaned on Guatemala for help. Now they’re calling the Republicans
Eric Olson, director of policy at the Seattle International Foundation, an organization that works to strengthen the rule of law in Central America, said in a recent appearance of the panel that Guatemala, like other Central American nations, lacks institutional “safeguards” and “mechanisms to fight corruption” and that this “robs” people of their future. “If you don’t believe in a future in your country, what alternative do you have? You go north.”
He said Arevalo’s better-than-expected performance in the first round could also be explained by his popularity among young voters. “There are many young people in the country who are disgusted by the oligarchs and the old guard playing dirty political (tricks).” He said Arevalo’s initial success in the first round, while not necessarily indicative of what’s to come, was a reminder that “we can’t just give in to authoritarian tendencies.”
Freeman, of the Council on Foreign Relations, said that if the certification delay leads to “maneuvering to install a pro-establishment” president, for many Guatemalans the “last spark of hope will be extinguished and migration will likely increase.” He added: “If Arevalo is elected, I’m not sure there’s any guarantee it will go down.”