Guatemalan Conservative Giammattei Leads Presidency Race: Early Results

Elias Hubbard
August 14, 2019

Guatemalans voted Sunday in a presidential runoff pitting former first lady Sandra Torres against conservative Alejandro Giammattei in a nation beset by poverty and unemployment, and dealing with migration issues.

Preliminary results show he took 59% of the vote, while his centre-left opponent Sandra Torres won 41%.

Torres has won the first round on June 16 with 25 percent of the votes versus 14 percent for Giammattei, out of a crowded field of 19 presidential hopefuls.

Speaking a few hours before he was declared the victor, the 63-year-old Giammattei said he wanted to see what could be done to improve the accord that outgoing President Jimmy Morales made under pressure from his American counterpart Donald Trump that seeks to stem US -bound migration from Central America.

Yielding to the threat of a raft of economic sanctions from Trump, outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales agreed to make his country a so-called safe third country for migrants, despite its high levels of poverty and violence.

It is unclear what toll the deal, which requires migrants passing through Guatemala to seek asylum there rather than in the United States, will have had on the country by the time Giammattei officially takes office in January.

Remittances from Guatemalans in the United States are a crucial part of the economy, reaching a record $9.3 billion previous year.

Among his more controversial proposals, Giammattei has also vowed to bring back the death penalty.

"It's not right for the country", Giammattei said of the deal.

Giammattei, 63, will also be taking over the country as it deals with a massive surge of residents fleeing for the United States. Mexican asylum data and testimony from migrants in Tenosique suggest that although fewer Central Americans are trying to enter the United States, plenty are still fleeing their poor, violent home countries, with many deciding to stay longer in Mexico, which has traditionally been a transit country. "If we don't have the capacity to look after our own people, imagine what it will be like for foreigners".

"The person who wins will have to lead a country that is viewed as a nation losing ground in the battle against corruption, because the mandate of the anti-corruption commission wasn't renewed", said Ricardo Barreno, a political science professor at the Central American Institute of Political Studies.

One of Mr Morales's last acts as president was to authorise an agreement with the USA administration of Donald Trump designating Guatemala as a "safe third country", which would permit Washington to turn away asylum seekers who didn't seek refuge when passing through Guatemala.

Adding to his challenges, Fitch Ratings said the divided political landscape will make it harder for the president to reverse declining tax collection that the agency cited in April when it revised Guatemala's sovereign outlook to negative.

In his campaign, Mr Giammattei promised to build "a wall of prosperity" to keep Guatemalans from migrating to the US.

Guatemalan presidential candidate for the Vamos (Let's Go) party Alejandro Giammattei waves to supporters after delivering a speech in Guatemala City on August 11, 2019. In order to lessen the disparity between the rich and the poor, he wants to attract more foreign investment to Guatemala by strengthening the protections granted to private property.

That same year, he led a controversial operation to take control of the Pavón prison, which had been run by inmates for a decade.

He came fourth in the 2015 election.

More than 250,000 Guatemalans were detained between October 2018 and July this year for trying to enter the U.S. illegally, Washington's embassy said.

In addition to migration, voters say they are concerned about crime, unemployment, the rising costs of living and entrenched corruption. He said corruption was his main concern.

Morales, barred by Guatemalan law from seeking a second term, urged his replacement to reduce undocumented migration, improve education and tackle chronic malnutrition in the under-fives, which affects 46% of infants.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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