Sunday 19 September 2021

Guatemala votes for new president as gang violence soars

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Guatemala appeared to be moving towards a second-round runoff election following a presidential vote on Sunday.

Center-left candidate Sandra Torres and her conservative rival Alejandro Giammattei are the top vote-getters, according to preliminary results. The two will likely face off in an August second-round runoff election.

Early results from 20% of polling stations counted showed center-left candidate Sandra Torres securing 23.33% of the vote compared to a second-place finish of 15.70% for her conservative rival Alejandro Giammattei.

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To win, a candidate needed to win more than 50% of the vote. Nineteen candidates were contending and the top two vote-getters will face off on August 11.

Gang violence, poverty, corruption

Despite tens of thousands of Guatemalans fleeing their country to seek refuge in the US, mass migration had not topped the candidates’ platforms. Instead, campaigning was dominated by the themes of gang violence, poverty and corruption.

Read more: U.S. cuts hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras

Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 22.4 murders per 100,000 people. For its citizens, ending gang violence and alleviating widespread poverty are a priority.

One of the top candidates, ex-attorney general and anti-corruption campaigner Thelma Aldana, was barred from running due to allegations of irregularities during her stint as a public prosecutor. She has fled to the US, citing death threats.

Voting in the town of San Jorge, in the department of Zacapa, was suspended due to similar threats and violent incidents against electoral authorities.

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Zacapa has a strong presence of local drug cartels, and several of its leaders have been extradited to the US accused of drug trafficking.

Clashes were also reported between rival supporters in other areas of the country.

Around 40,000 police were put on alert, while the military was deployed to safeguard key buildings across the country. Authorities had warned of possible outbreaks of violence in dozens of municipalities.

Guatemalans also voted in parliamentary and municipal elections. It is the first time that citizens living abroad are allowed to vote, with polling stations set up across the US, in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC.

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