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Outsider surprisingly reaches runoff

Nobody expected that: In Guatemala, the left-wing presidential candidate Arevalo surprisingly won the runoff. His promised fight against corruption caught on with voters.

Anne Demmer

Especially in rural areas, women and men in their traditional costumes waited in line to cast their votes. In some smaller towns, entire streets were blocked off by the parties so that they could hold their election parties. Part was celebrated exuberantly.

The main reason for this was the center-left party Movimiento Semilla: Their presidential candidate Bernardo Arevalo took second place with around twelve percent.

People in Chajul queue to cast their votes. The city is located about 200 kilometers northeast of the capital of Guatemala. In addition to the new head of state, MPs and mayors were also up for election.

“I thank the people who believed in us,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for us. The people have sent a clear message: reject corruption.” According to Arevalo, the Guatemalans expected a profound change.

The result must have come as a surprise to everyone. The polls leading up to the elections had not foreseen it.

Significant loss of votes Torres’

The former president’s wife Sandra Torres from the UNE party, which is running for election for the third time, received the most votes. She had already been ahead in the polls, but lost a lot of votes at 15 percent.

“The previous governments were all men. They failed,” Torres said. She promised: “As a woman, I will support you and I will deliver results. I have experience – I know what I’m doing.” People would know her and would know “that I keep my promises.”

Because none of the candidates got the necessary 50 percent, there will be a runoff between Arevalo and Torres.

Center-left politician Arevalo – son of the country’s first democratically elected president, Juan Jose Arevalo – has taken up the cause of fighting corruption. The social democrat Torres stands for the old structures.

Human rights groups, political scientists and indigenous representatives have criticized the increasing control of the country’s institutions by political and financial interest groups.

Low voter turnout

There is talk of a “Pact of the Corrupt”: Consisting of organized crime, politicians, influential entrepreneurs and the military. In the run-up, three candidates had been excluded – for flimsy reasons. Including the indigenous Thelma Cabrera from the left movement MLP.

The turnout was low at around 60 percent, and almost a quarter of the voters cast an invalid or blank ballot – certainly also a form of protest. Francisco Rocael Mateo Morales of the Maya People’s Council sees Arevalo’s unexpected success as positive news.

“Arevalo promises to fight this cancer, the corruption that has spread throughout the country,” Morales said. “He’s a Democrat. He’s talked a lot about restoring the rule of law.”

The runoff between Arevalo and Torres is expected to take place in August.

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