Beating Projections: Anti-Corruption Candidate’s Unexpected Success Provides Hope For Guatemala

In Guatemala’s presidential elections on June 25th, progressive anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo advanced to a run-off (to be held later this month). According to AP News, neither Arévalo nor his opponent, conservative Sandra Torres, received the 50% of votes needed to win the election because nearly 1 million of the ballots were invalid. Nevertheless, and despite polls prior to the election placing him at around 2.9%, Arévalo made a strong showing, winning 11.8 % of the 60% of the population that voted in the election to Torres’ 15.7%.

Arévalo’s party, the Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), also won 24 seats in Congress, Al Jazeera says, which is 18 more seats than it had won previously in 2019.

International experts interpreted both the high percentage of null and blank votes and Arévalo’s unexpected success as a form of protest. “The Guatemalan citizens shouted with the null vote,” Ana Maria Mendez, Central America Director for the Washington Office on Latin America, said. “It is a rejection of the current electoral political system because it [the system] does not respond to the desires and aspirations of a people tired of corruption.”

The director of Citizen Action, a nonprofit group that helped oversee the election, expressed similar sentiments. “We are seeing how the population expresses its fatigue with a system, with a form of politics and government,” said Director Edie Cux.

That this strong, progressive, anti-corruption candidate for the presidency has advanced to the run-off provides hope for Guatemala’s future. Given how Arévalo’s low polling numbers compared to his success in the actual election, his supporters are optimistic for his success. However, the low participation in the election and the high number of invalid ballots are causes for concern. If the 40% of the population that did not vote show up for the run-off, they could turn the tide in either direction, and if those who voted null truly were protesting the establishment, how they cast this next ballot could be a deciding factor in who wins the presidency.

Arévalo himself called for support after the vote. “Without the fight against corruption we are not going to be able to achieve development or the fight against poverty,” he said.

Guatemala’s government, and particularly its presidency, has been plagued with corruption in recent years. Current president Alejandro Giammattei has been accused of bribery, and Human Rights Watch reports that both his government and that of the previous president, Jimmy Morales, have blocked anti-corruption prosecutors and international investigations. A number of presidential candidates, including a left-wing Indigenous organizer who had received strong support in the last election, were disqualified from this year’s elections. All of this has eroded democracy in Guatemala, raising concerns over whether Arévalo’s relative success in this election will be enough to pull ahead in the next.

Given the current context of Guatemalan politics, the run-off’s result is uncertain. With Arévalo doing better than he was polled to, a government that has shown no qualms with interfering in the democratic process could do so again. A specifically anti-corruption candidate presents a threat to the current regime, as do the null votes and the candidates who were disqualified from the election. However, those null votes also show that the Guatemalan electorate are standing up to their current government. The Seed Movement’s growing success is a step toward combating the corruption that has been ruling Guatemala over the past years. Although the future remains uncertain, the election results are an encouraging sign for Guatemala’s democracy.