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  • An employee arranges ballots at a warehouse before Sunday's 1st-round general election, in Guatemala City, Guatemala June 11, 2019.

    An employee arranges ballots at a warehouse before Sunday's 1st-round general election, in Guatemala City, Guatemala June 11, 2019. | Photo: REUTERS

Published 12 June 2019

8 million Guatemalans Sunday will choose their next president from a large pool of candidates and in a context of rampant corruption.

More than eight million Guatemalan voters are expected to elect the country’s next president Sunday with a total of 19 candidates competing for the highest office in the land.

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Opinion polls indicate that candidate Sandra Torres, running under the banner of the social-democratic National Unity of Hope Party (UNE), is leading the race. Following her is a great number of contenders led by Alejandro Giammattei of the newly created Vamos party, Roberto Arzu of the right-wing Pan-Podemos and Edmundo Mulet of the Guatemalan Humanist Party.

If no candidate achieves an absolute majority in the first-round vote, a runoff is scheduled for August 11 between the two frontrunners.

A huge number of challenges await the winner of Guatemala’s presidential election who will need to tackle some of country’s most urgent problems including high poverty rates, political and economic exclusion of the Indigenous population, its massive outflow of migrants to the United States seeking asylum from violence, and above all, the rampant crime and corruption which remain deeply rooted in the political system.

With help from the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent body created to look into corruption, the country seemed to be making progress, but when it started uncovering evidence of financial anomalies pointing to President Jimmy Morales, his family and his party, the president turned against it,  banning the head of the commission, Colombian jurist and diplomat Ivan Velasquez and prohibiting him from reentering Guatemala.

Other issues affecting these elections are the 10 local candidates killed in recent months, most of whom were from opposition parties; four belonging to a party led by Indigenous candidate Thelma Cabrera’s Movement for the Liberation of People party (MLP).

To help the election process, observers from an Organization of American States (OAS) mission arrived in Guatemala for its 19th electoral observation in the country.

The mission will carry out analysis on key issues such as the electoral process, campaign financing and participation of women, Indigenous groups, and Afro-Guatemalan people. It will also meet with the presidential candidates, the political parties and civil society groups to gather their comments on the process.

The Secretary-general of the OAS called last month for “transparent elections, without interference or external factors, including from CICIG.”

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