Anti-corruption campaigner promises to tackle widespread graft and violence that has fuelled migration to the US.
Anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arevalo has scored a landslide victory in Guatemala’s presidential election, after voters angry at successive leaders’ failure to tackle widespread corruption made a decisive choice for change.
With 98 percent of ballots counted, Arevalo had 58 percent of votes, with his rival Sandra Torres trailing on 36 percent, according to a count by the TSE national election body.
Blanca Alfaro, the judge who heads the TSE, said Arevalo of the centre-left Semilla (Seed) Movement, was the “virtual winner” and called for an immediate national dialogue to help bridge the country’s deep political divides.
President Alejandro Giammattei congratulated Arevalo in a tweet on X, formerly known as Twitter, and invited him to begin an orderly transition the day after the results are certified.
“Long live Guatemala!” Arevalo wrote on X.
The 64-year-old ex-diplomat and son of a former president takes power amid violence and food insecurity that has triggered new waves of migration. Guatemalans now represent the largest number of Central Americans seeking to enter the United States.
Arevalo’s supporters took to the streets to celebrate as local media reported news of his victory.
Jhamy Lucas, 27, cried tears of joy. “I am so happy because I am going to be able to live in my country,” she said. “I’m not going to have to migrate to survive.”
Many Guatemalans also said they hoped Arevalo’s win would herald a better future for their country.
“I voted for Arevalo because he is the only option we have. Voting for Sandra is backing the same people who came before,” said Roberto Alvarez, a 74-year-old accountant, after casting his ballot in Guatemala City.
Torres cancelled her post-vote press conference scheduled for Sunday evening, local media reported.
Hours before the polls shut, both campaigns alleged sporadic voting irregularities, claims that are not uncommon during Guatemalan elections and that are often made as part of the final push to get out the vote.
There were no reports of violence or disorder as polls closed.
A key representative of the Organization of American States (OAS), which has a team of 86 election observers in Guatemala, said the voting had gone smoothly. Eladio Loizaga, head of the mission, said the election had “fulfilled all the demanding obligations”.
The election is being closely watched by the international community, including the US, after campaigning was marred by attempts by some officials to remove Arevalo and his party from the race.
Arevalo’s unexpected success in the first round of the elections was followed by raids against his party offices and those of electoral officials. It also provoked calls from opponents for recounts that delayed official results.
His party was briefly suspended at the request of a prosecutor before the country’s top court reversed the ban.