Right-wing Alejandro Giammattei wins Guatemalan presidential elections

With only 42% participation of the electorate, Giammattei pulled ahead of former first-lady Sandra Torres in the second round of presidential elections in Guatemala

August 12, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
Alejandro Giammattei celebrates his victory in the presidential elections in Guatemala. Photo: EFE/ Esteban Biba

Alejandro Giammattei of Vamos, a right-wing party, won the second round of general elections held in Guatemala on August 11 with 59.47% of votes. After 86% of the votes were counted, Julio Solórzano, the president of the Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), declared Giammattei’s victory, acknowledging the electoral trend irreversible.

Giammattei beat the center-right candidate Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party with a margin of approximately 20% of votes. Torres received 40.53% of votes in the run-off elections. 63-year old Giammattei focused his campaign on building a “wall of investment” along Guatemala’s border with Mexico, in order to generate jobs and reduce migration.

According to the TSE, the level of abstention was very high. More than 8 million Guatemalans were eligible to vote, however, less than 2 million cast their vote which is around 42% of the electorate.

Giammattei, the new president, will assume office in January 2020 for the period 2020-2024. He will have to deal with the major issues of corruption, immigration, poverty and violence facing Guatemala today. The hard-right leader used to be the director of penitentiary system in Guatemala and has a very tough stance on crime. During his campaign he said that the death penalty should be reinstated and members of gangs should be treated as terrorists.

He has also been very vocal in his opposition to the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) which was unilaterally ended by Morales in January. In an interview Giammattei suggested that in the absence of the CICIG, Guatemala should work with the FBI and get help from Israel to improve their intelligence systems.

Guatemala’s new president will also have to face the challenge posed with the “Safe-Third Country” immigration agreement recently signed between the current Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and the US President Donald Trump. The agreement is widely rejected by the majority of the population of Guatemala. Said immigration agreement, would allow the US to send asylum seekers from Honduras and El Salvador and other countries to Guatemala to process their asylum applications. Morales signed the agreement under threat of economic sanctions but Giammattei has criticized the agreement and vowed to fight against it.

These general elections were marked by a general distrust of the people in the current political class and in the TSE, evident with the low level of participation. Days before the second round, thousands of peasants across the country carried out a general strike to denounce the electoral fraud committed in the first round held in June and to reject the “Safe-Third Country” agreement.

During the second round, candidate Sandra Torres denounced that people were hauled to the polling stations and that members of Vamos party were caught buying votes, which is prohibited in the Guatemalan electoral regulations.

The highlight of this year’s elections was the success of Indigenous candidate Thelma Cabrera of the Movement for the Liberation of People (MPL). Although Cabrera fell short of votes to qualify for the second round, she received just 3.5% of votes less than Giammattei in the first round. Throughout her electoral campaign Cabrera stressed on the need to make Guatemala a plurinational state. Her main objectives were to lower public officials’ salaries, remove legislative impunity, nationalize public services, and provide equal access to water and land.