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Calls for Smooth Transition as Arevalo Wins Guatemala Presidential Election

Regional and international leaders have hailed the victory of left-wing anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arevalo in Guatemala’s presidential run-off, while urging a smooth transfer of power.

Arevalo, a 64-year-old former diplomat and son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, won 58 percent of the vote during Sunday’s polls, trouncing former First Lady Sandra Torres at 37 percent, according to preliminary results.

While the official results had yet to be certified early on Monday, the head of Guatemala’s election body called Arevalo the “virtual winner” and appealed for a national dialogue to help bridge the country’s deep political divides.

Organization of American States (OAS) chief Luis Almagro also applauded the vote late on Sunday.

“A salute to the people and government of Guatemala for an exemplary election day, a true civic celebration,” Almagro wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

Almagro and other international observers have expressed hope that Arevalo’s apparent landslide victory would head off any major challenges to the vote — a concern raised by rights groups and Western allies ahead of Sunday’s polls.

“The outcome of the vote is already very clear,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. “It is crucial for all state institutions and all sectors of society to support and join in this effort in the interests of the country.”

On Monday, US President Joe Biden also congratulated Guatemala on a “fair and peaceful” vote. Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it looked “forward to a democratic transition of power, respecting the popular will”.

That hope was bolstered by outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, who had vowed to ensure an orderly transition of power when his term ends in January.

On Twitter, he congratulated Arevalo and invited him to meet “the day after election results were finalised”.

An OAS representative, with a team of 86 election observers in the country, said voting had gone smoothly and the election “fulfilled all the demanding obligations”. An EU mission is also set to put out a preliminary statement with its findings on the election on Tuesday.

Possible challenges

As of early Monday, Torres, a Giammattei ally, had not yet accepted her loss publicly. Her National Unity of Hope (UNE) party said in a statement that it would take a position once the election results were put out “with total transparency”.

Torres had previously alleged irregularities in the first round of voting in June, which saw Arevalo take a surprise second place.

Those allegations led to a brief suspension of the election results’ certification, while a review of the votes was conducted.

Afterwards, the Attorney General’s Office sought — and received — a court-issued suspension of Arevalo’s party, the Seed Movement, on allegations that fraudulent signatures were used to form the party.

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ultimately overturned the suspension, but the Attorney General’s Office proceeded to conduct police raids on the Seed Movement’s offices.

In the wake of these incidents, Arevalo said he was bracing for challenges to Sunday’s victory.

“We know that there is a political persecution under way that is being carried out through the institutions and prosecutor’s offices and judges that have been corruptly co-opted,” he told supporters on Sunday night.

“We want to think that the force of this victory is going to make it clear that there is no place for the attempts to derail the electoral process. The Guatemalan people have spoken forcefully.”

Arevalo’s victory has been largely seen as a reflection of widespread discontent with government corruption in Guatemala, a country of about 17 million.

Critics have warned of threats to Guatemala’s democracy, as prominent lawyers, journalists and anti-corruption advocates have been arrested or exiled in recent years.

Amid high rates of violence and poverty, waves of migrants have also left the country. Guatemalans now represent the largest number of Central Americans seeking to enter the United States.

Regional support

Arevalo’s victory received regional support on Sunday, as neighbouring countries offered congratulations.

In a tweet, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador celebrated the election results as a milestone for the region: “I am sure that new times of humanism and justice will arrive for everyone, and, in particular, for the heirs of the great Mesoamerican civilization.”

Honduran President Xiomara Castro also tweeted that, following Arevalo’s win, she was sure “we will unify the people of Central America”.

Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo echoed those remarks, offering his regards to Arevalo on social media as well.

“Let us continue strengthening the ties of friendship and cooperation, for the development of our nations and the region,” he wrote.

On Monday, the government of Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its territory, also extended its congratulations.

Guatemala is one of only 13 countries to maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Still, Arevalo has promised to strengthen Guatemala’s ties with China alongside its long-standing alliance with the island.