Leader in Guatemala presidential election suspends campaign

By Sonia Perez | Associated Press

GUATEMALA CITY — The top vote-getter in the first round of Guatemala’s presidential election said Thursday she is suspending her campaign activities in solidarity with her opponent, whose party is being pursued by prosecutors.

Sandra Torres said in a news conference that the current playing field between herself and Seed Party candidate Bernardo Arévalo is uneven.

“We want to demonstrate our solidarity with the voters of the Seed party and also with those who came out to vote,” Torres said. “As a candidate I want to compete under equal conditions.”

Torres’ announcement came the same day that the country’s top prosecutors raided the headquarters of the electoral authority just hours after it certified the June 25 results of the first round of the presidential election.

The move by the Attorney General’s Office appeared aimed at stopping Arévalo, whose campaign platform is eliminating corruption, and it immediately sparked objections from within and outside Guatemala. U.S. officials called it a threat to the country’s democracy.

The raid came immediately on the heels of special prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche’s announcement Wednesday that a judge had agreed to suspend the legal status of the Seed Movement. Curruchiche said the party allegedly violated the law while gathering the signatures it needed to form.

The Attorney General’s Office said Thursday that the purpose of the raid was to seize evidence from the office responsible for voter rolls and party registration. A raid was also expected to take place at the Seed Movement’s party headquarters Thursday.

Arévalo dismissed the prosecutors’ actions as illegal.

“What they are trying to do is simply plant doubt about our honesty,” he told a news conference Thursday, adding that the raid and party’s suspension had a “clear political purpose.”

Arévalo was a surprise winner in the June 25 election. In the days before the vote, the former diplomat and academic had polled below 3% and was not among the top six or seven candidates, all of whom were considered to be on the conservative end of the political spectrum. No candidate came close to exceeding the 50% threshold necessary to win outright in the first round of voting, necessitating the August runoff.

Arévalo has framed himself as the candidate who would bring change to the country, versus his opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, who he said would maintain the status quo. Torres, who won the most votes in the first round with 15.8%, belongs to the UNE party that dominates the Guatemalan Congress, and was a key ally in helping President Alejandro Giammattei pass his legislative agenda.

Arévalo, who won 11.7% of the vote, also promised to bring back prosecutors and judges who were critical to the nation’s fight against corruption but were forced out of the country under Giammattei’s administration.

As the wait dragged on for certification of the election, anxiety grew that the government was looking for a way to change the results. First, several losing parties waged a legal challenge, leading Guatemala’s highest court to suspend the certification and order a review of hundreds of challenged polling place tallies. The review concluded with no change in the results.

Then late Wednesday, Curruchiche announced the party’s suspension, an action that itself appears to violate Guatemala’s election laws, which prohibit suspending parties during an ongoing election.


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