Surprise in Guatemala. Before last Sunday’s elections, the polls did not predict that anything was going to change in one of the poorest countries on the American continent. The growing authoritarianism promoted by the outgoing president, the right-wing Alejandro Giammattei, was going to continue, according to the polls, because none of the three candidates likely to advance to the second round – all of them conservatives – promised to radically change course.
But the polls were wrong and in the second round of August 20 a progressive candidate slipped in, Bernardo Arévalo, who in the polls did not exceed 3% of voting intention. However, this 64-year-old deputy and former diplomat obtained just over 12% and came in second, behind former first lady, Sandra Torres, who touched 15% of the vote, considerably less than the 21% that the polls gave her.
Torres won the first round on Sunday with only 15% of the vote, compared to 12% for Arévalo
With 22 presidential candidacies, the vote was fragmented. Torres, 67 years old and ex-wife of former President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), calls herself a social democrat and promises various assistance measures but at the same time carries a conservative discourse, including her admiration for the disputed strong hand of the Salvadoran president, Nayib Bukele, against gang crime.
Torres has also not questioned the judicial persecution promoted by Giammattei against critical journalists or the annulment of three presidential candidacies by the electoral authority, including that of Carlos Pineda, a right-wing populist who was leading the polls.
For his part, Arévalo, who went from eighth place in the polls to second place in the first round, has questioned the growing authoritarianism in the country and, especially, the persecution of journalists. Former ambassador to Spain (1995-1996) and son of the progressive president Juan José Arévalo (1945-1951), Arévalo proposes a comprehensive educational reform, the active defense of the environment or the creation of a network of public pharmacies.
Arévalo leads Semilla, a party that emerged after the 2015 popular demonstrations against the corruption of then-President Otto Pérez Molina (2012-2015), who ended up resigning and in jail, although his two successors, comedian Jimmy Morales (2016-2020 ) and Giammattei, also subscribed to corruption and hindered investigations for this crime.
Giammattei’s candidate, Manuel Conde, was in third position in Sunday’s elections, also against forecasts, although he did not reach 8%. Behind, another conservative, Armando Castillo with just over 7%, while Edmond Mulet (6.76%) and Zury Ríos (6.66%) had to settle for fifth and sixth position, respectively. All of them conservatives, Mulet and Ríos -daughter of the dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983)- should have disputed with Torres the pass to the second round, as the erroneous polls had predicted.
The invalid votes, 17%, exceeded the percentage of Torres and show the exhaustion of Guatemalans
Arévalo’s surprising pass to the second round is a symptom of the exhaustion of Guatemalans, who, government after government, have been defrauded by leaders who promised to end corruption and improve the quality of life, but who ended up deteriorating the institutions. Citizens have seen in Arévalo an opportunity to change things for the left, after one of the three annulled presidential candidacies was that of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples.
However, the main symptom of that weariness has also been reflected at the polls, in this first round. Strictly, the winner was not Torres but the invalid vote, which obtained a higher percentage than the 15% of the former first lady. 17% of Guatemalans annulled their ballots, which added to the 7% of blank votes, equals 24%. A quarter of the voters.