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International News: Guatemala at a Crossroads: Tense showdown in upcoming presidential election

Posted: Sunday, August 13, 2023. 2:05 pm CST.

By Breaking Belize News Staff: According to a recent report by CNN, Guatemalans are gearing up for a presidential election that is stirring concern among international observers due to its tumultuous backdrop. Scheduled for August 20, the race pits a former first lady against the son of an erstwhile president, underlining the complexities of the nation’s political scene.

Sandra Torres, previously Guatemala’s first lady and seen by many as the embodiment of the existing political order, will contend with Bernardo Arévalo, a candidate who champions anti-corruption. Despite being an underdog, Arévalo astounded many by securing a spot in the runoff, after finishing second in the June preliminary round. Torres captured 16% of the votes in the first round, whereas Arévalo secured 11.8%. Nonetheless, it’s notable that over 24% of the ballots cast were blank or invalid, and nearly 40% of registered voters opted to abstain. Analysts suggest this stems from a growing disillusionment with the nation’s electoral process, particularly after the government disqualified several opposition figures vocal about corruption.

The electoral race has not been without its share of controversy. Allegations of government interference and apprehensions over a regression in democratic norms have marred the buildup to the polls. Arévalo’s surprising ascent in the presidential race, however, has revived hopes. As Will Freeman, a Latin America expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, commented to CNN, Arévalo’s progressive stance offers the Guatemalan populace an alternative to the present political system.

The turbulence in this electoral cycle has its roots in a history of graft and unchecked power. Following the dissolution of the United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission, CICIG, in 2019, the situation intensified. Legal professionals linked with the commission faced persecution, leading many to flee the nation. The current electoral cycle also witnessed the barring of anti-corruption advocates, evoking condemnation from the international community.

Bernardo Arévalo, aside from his political stance, is also known for his past role as the ambassador to Spain. His political journey hasn’t been smooth; he faced potential disqualification due to allegations surrounding his party, Movimiento Semilla. This led to an international uproar, with entities such as the US, European Union, and the G13 group intervening. Eventually, even Torres temporarily halted her campaign, standing in solidarity with Arévalo’s party.

Voters, come August 20, are primarily concerned with issues such as unemployment, rampant corruption, and the rising cost of living. Torres, leader of one of Guatemala’s predominant political factions, Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), promises to augment the nation’s welfare initiatives. On the other hand, Arévalo, with his pragmatic approach and legacy of being the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, aims to tackle corruption head-on. He is set on rectifying the root causes of corruption and aims to reinstate individuals who were forced to leave the country after the CICIG shutdown.

While the outcome remains uncertain, one thing is clear: whoever emerges victorious will face a daunting task navigating a complex political landscape.

 

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