CNN
 — 

Anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo, from the progressive Movimiento Semilla party, appeared to have won Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday, beating former first lady Sandra Torres in a race marred by fears of democratic backsliding.

With more than 95% of the ballots counted, Arévalo won 59.1% of the vote compared to Torres’ 36.1%, according to official data from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

It marks a stunning win for the former diplomat who reinvigorated a race that has been plagued by controversy after the state disqualified opposition candidates who spoke out against corruption – drawing concerns from rights groups and Western allies.

The president of the electoral tribunal, Irma Palencia, said during a press conference on Sunday night that “today, the people voice’s spoke,” as it became apparent that Arévalo had won by a large margin.

In a post on X, formally known as Twitter, Arévalo wrote: “Long live Guatemala!”

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei congratulated Arévalo for his win in a post on X, saying he would “extend the invitation to start the ordered transition the day after the results are official.”

The center-left politician Arévalo tapped into widespread public discontent with his promises to curb crime and corruption, tackle malnutrition, and bring growth to a country that has one of the highest levels of inequality in the region.

Achieving those goals won’t be easy for Arévalo, whose father was the country’s first democratically elected president, as Congress is set to be largely controlled by establishment parties, including Torres’ Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza.

A voter casts their ballot at a polling station during the presidential run-off election in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on August 20, 2023.

Analysts caution there could also be attempts to undermine the victory by Arévalo, pointing to efforts by state actors to disqualify him after his surprise second place finish during the first round of voting in June.

A Guatemalan court suspended his Movimiento Semilla party on the request of Rafael Curruchiche, who heads the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity and is on the US State Department’s Engel List of “corrupt and undemocratic actors.”

Curruchiche said they were investigating Movimiento Semilla for allegedly falsifying citizens’ signatures – a claim Arévalo has denied.

His win comes as regional observers say rising kleptocracy, graft and weakening rule of law have exacerbated inequality in the Central American country, driving thousands of Guatemalans to move to the United States in recent years.

The situation worsened after a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission, known as CICIG, credited for assisting in hundreds of convictions, was dissolved in 2019, rights groups say.

Prosecutors and judges associated with the commission were arrested and investigated and many have since fled the country. The ensuing years have seen high rates of poverty and malnutrition.

Members of the media who have opposed corruption in their reporting have also faced legal consequences. This year, prominent Guatemalan journalist José Rubén Zamora was sentenced to six years in prison for money laundering, in a ruling press groups described as an attack on free speech.

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