Guatemala heads to run-off elections elections amid record levels of abstention

On August 20, the people of Guatemala will choose between former first lady Sandra Torres and sociologist Bernardo Arévalo

June 27, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Sandra Torres of the center-right National Unity of Hope (UNE) party and Bernardo Arévalo of the center-left Semilla Movement party will face off in the second round of presidential elections in Guatemala on August 20. (Photo: Prensa Latina)

On Sunday, June 25, Guatemala held general elections with 22 candidates vying for the presidency of the country. As the counting of the votes proceeded, it became clear that a second round would take place since none of the candidates was polling near the required more than 50% threshold. In the early hours of Monday, after counting 90% of the votes, the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) announced that Sandra Torres of the center-right National Unity of Hope (UNE) party and Bernardo Arévalo of the center Semilla Movement party would advance to the next round.

According to the results released by the TSE, with 98.5% of the votes counted, Torres obtained 15.7% of the votes, while Arévalo secured 11.8% of the votes. They will now face off in the run-off on August 20. Arévalo’s victory came as a total surprise because until a week ago, he didn’t appear among the leading candidates in any of the opinion polls.

Following the top two candidates were Manuel Conde of the ruling far-right Vamos party with 7.8% of the votes, Armando Castillo of the right-wing Viva party with 7.2% of the votes, Edmond Mulet of the center-right Cabal party with 6.7% of the votes, and Zury Ríos of the far-right Valor Unionista party with 6.5% of the votes. The remaining 16 contestants secured less than 5% of the votes.

The election results were overshadowed by low turnout and high level of protest votes. Over 9.3 million Guatemalans were eligible to vote in the elections. According to the TSE, around 5.5 million citizens exercised their right to vote, and 1.3 million of them cast blank and null votes. Ahead of the elections, three candidates were disqualified from the ballot on dubious grounds, including Thelma Cabrera of the left-wing political party Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), which drew criticism from various international organizations.

The stakes were high in these elections, considering the deterioration of transparency and human rights in the country, as well as the ongoing challenges of corruption, poverty, unemployment and violence in recent years. On Sunday, the majority of Guatemalans expressed their lack of confidence in the electoral process and in its ability to address the country’s pressing issues.

In addition to electing the country’s new president, vice president, Guatemalans were also called to elect 160 legislators, 20 members of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) as well as mayors and councilors for all 340 municipalities in the country for the period of 2024-2028.

In the case of the legislative elections, the ruling Vamos party won the highest numbers of seats with 11.3% of the votes. The UNE party followed it with 9.6% of the votes. The Semilla Movement came in third with 8.8% of the votes. The majority of the members of the PARLACEN will also be from these three parties. Likewise, the Semilla Movement swept the council polls with 28.5% of the votes. Meanwhile, the Valor Unionista and the Creo party won the mayoral elections with 22.9% and 22.7% of the votes, respectively.

Sandra Torres

Sandra Torres, 67, is the ex-wife of late former president Álvaro Colom (2008-2012). She is running for the presidency of Guatemala for the third time. In the 2015 presidential elections, she came in second in the first round, and in the second round she was widely defeated by Jimmy Morales. In the 2019 electoral process, she won the first round, but lost the second round to the incumbent president Alejandro Giammattei.

Torres describes herself as a politician who fights for justice and social conscience, but she is actually a representative of traditional politics. Right-wing candidates such as Manuel Conde and Zury Ríos are expected to announce their support for Torres in the second round. If she wins, she would become the first woman president of Guatemala.

Bernardo Arévalo

Bernardo Arévalo, 64, is the son of late former president Juan José Arévalo Bermejo (1945-1951), who is considered one of the best presidents of Guatemala. He trained as a sociologist and a doctor of philosophy and social anthropology. He was a legislator and head of the Semilla Movement in the outgoing Congress. He has extensive experience in diplomacy. He has served as vice foreign minister, ambassador to Spain, and consular secretary to Israel in the 1990s.