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Guatemala elects progressive Arévalo as president, but efforts afoot to keep him from taking office

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GUATEMALA CITY, Aug 21 (AP): A progressive from outside
Guatemala’s power structure was resoundingly elected the country’s next
president on Sunday in a reprimand to the governing elite over widespread
allegations of corruption.
Despite preliminary results showing a potential landslide for anti-corruption
crusader Bernardo Arévalo, the attention immediately turned to whether he
would be allowed to assume power as the Attorney General’s Office
attempts to suspend his party’s legal status.
With 100% of votes counted, preliminary results gave Arévalo 58% of the
vote to 37% for former first lady Sandra Torres in her third bid for the
presidency. The official results will still have to be certified.
“We know that there is a political persecution underway that is being
carried out through the institutions and prosecutor’s offices and judges that
have been corruptly co-opted,” Arévalo said 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.”
Arévalo said outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei congratulated him
and told him that they would begin planning the transition the day after the
results were certified.
But Guatemalans still remember that an hour before the results from the
first round of voting were certified last month, the Attorney General’s Office
announced it was investigating the signatures gathered by Arévalo’s Seed
Movement party to register years earlier. A judge briefly suspended the
party’s legal status before a higher court intervened.
Eduardo Núñez, the Guatemala resident senior director for the National
Democratic Institute, expected two trends to continue and intensify in the
coming days: the country’s polarization and the judicialization of the
electoral process.
Núñez said there will be three key moments: the immediate positions
staked out by Arévalo’s Seed Movement and Torres’ National Unity of

Hope party about the results; then on Oct. 31, when Guatemala’s electoral
process officially ends and the Seed Movement will no longer enjoy the
legal protection that would keep it from being cancelled, and finally on Jan.
14, when Giammattei is constitutionally mandated to leave office.
“It is likely that there could be a series of official actions that look to modify
in one way or another what happened in the June elections and what could
happen now in the August elections,” Núñez said.
A big question remained how Guatemalans could react to any government
actions that appear to go against the will of the voters.
Alec Escobar celebrated Arévalo’s victory in downtown Guatemala City but
said he knew difficult days lie ahead.
Even if Torres or others do not accept the result, and the attorney general
moves against the Seed Movement, Escobar said he and other young
people who formed Arévalo’s base of support were ready to act.
“Just like we protected the first electoral round, we are going to protect the
country’s democracy,” he said.
Edmond Mulet is a former Guatemalan diplomat and president of
Congress, who competed in the first round of the election as the
presidential candidate for the Cabal party. Prosecutors have three open
cases against him and his party, in what he said was a safeguard in case
he had made it to the runoff.
He noted that in 2015, massive street protests pushed President Otto
Pérez Molina, accused of massive corruption, to resign. Mulet does not see
the current situation as clear-cut and believes Guatemala’s power structure
will use legal tools to create confusion and sow doubt in hopes of avoiding
a massive united public reaction.
“In any other country in the world, the people would have been out in the
streets a long time ago, but in Guatemala there’s another solution:
migration,” Mulet said. “That’s the pressure valve. Elsewhere this would
have exploded already.”
Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans have emigrated to the United
States in recent years, and the Biden administration considers Guatemala’s
corruption to be a major push factor for migrants.
Mulet sees at least two possible scenarios in the coming weeks and
months.

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In one, the Seed Movement is cancelled and Arévalo is allowed to assume
the presidency without a party. It would have dire effects on his party’s
representatives in the Congress, who would be barred from holding
leadership positions or leading committees. They would already be in the
minority.
Arévalo could expect almost immediate attempts from Congress to remove
him from office and struggle to advance any sort of legislation.
In the other scenario described by Mulet, the Attorney General’s Office
succeeds in cancelling the legal status of the Seed Movement. Then it
makes the argument that because the party was improperly registered,
everything that occurred afterward, including Arévalo’s nomination, is
nullified and he cannot assume the presidency.
If Giammattei leaves office as constitutionally mandated on Jan. 14 and
there is not a president-elect – or vice president-elect — to take his place,
the next in line would be the president of the Congress, almost certainly a
Giammattei ally. The president of Congress would then present a list of
three names, possibly including his or her own, to Congress and
lawmakers would select a temporary president for the nation.It is such new
legal territory that it is unclear if that would be to serve out Arévalo’s full
term or if a new election could be called sooner, Núñez said.Before
Sunday’s results were known, Mulet speculated that a large margin of
victory for Arévalo could make his opponents think twice about their next
steps.“I think they’ve been testing Guatemalans … to see if they’re going to
mobilize,” Mulet said.

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