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Guatemala's anti-corruption candidate wins presidency in a landslide vote

Guatemalan presidential candidate for the Semilla party, Bernardo Arevalo, celebrates the results of the presidential run-off election in Guatemala City, on August 20, 2023.
LUIS ACOSTA
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AFP via Getty Images
Guatemalan presidential candidate for the Semilla party, Bernardo Arevalo, celebrates the results of the presidential run-off election in Guatemala City, on August 20, 2023.

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — A reformist candidate has beaten the odds and will become president-elect of Guatemala. With nearly 100% of the vote counted, the center-left, anti-corruption candidate, Bernardo Arévalo, leads with more than 20 percentage points.

The polls predicted this huge victory. But it's also unexpected.

The 64-year-old former diplomat and son of the Guatemala's first democratically elected president,Arévalo stunned political observers when he secured second place against former first lady Sandra Torres in the initial round of voting in June. He and his Semilla party were hardly known in Guatemala just a few months ago.

Arévalo and his party were outsiders in a country where the ruling elite has been consolidating its power for years. Human rights defenders, journalists, independent prosecutors and judges had been fleeing, some imprisoned. The ruling party and some of its allies had challenged the result of the first round of the election that saw the Semilla party briefly suspended.

"This victory belongs to the people of Guatemala and now, united as the Guatemalan people, we will fight against corruption," Arévalo said at a news conference late Sunday evening.

Before the election, voter apathy had reigned in a country where many had become inured to corruption and its backslide toward authoritarianism. Analysts view this win as a chance to short-circuit Guatemala's democratic backslide.

Supporters of Guatemalan presidential candidate for the Semilla party, Bernardo Arevalo, celebrate the results of the presidential run-off election in Guatemala City, on August 20, 2023.
Johan Ordonez / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Supporters of Guatemalan presidential candidate for the Semilla party, Bernardo Arévalo, celebrate the results of the presidential runoff election in Guatemala City, on Sunday.

Late Sunday night, supporters of Arévalo took to the streets in celebration. One supporter, Paola Ardo, told NPR that she felt like "democracy has been defended."

The outgoing conservative President Alejandro Giammatteicongratulated Arévalo on X, formerly known as Twitter, and invited him to make an "orderly transition" to power, once the results were finalized.

Sandra Torres, the losing candidate, had not conceded on Sunday evening and has vowed to challenge the results in court.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.