GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Progressive candidate Bernardo Arévalo was confirmed the winner of Guatemala's presidential election by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Monday, but the same day another government body ordered his political party suspended.
Arévalo has faced a slew of legal challenges and allegations of irregularities since his unexpected victory over a candidate favored by the country's conservative elite.
Arévalo appears certain to take office as president on Jan. 14, but it was not clear whether his Seed Movement lawmakers would be able to take their seats in the country's Congress.
Arévalo called the suspension ruling legally void and said his party would appeal it.
“As of this moment, no one can stop me from taking office on Jan. 14,” he told a news conference.
The electoral registry's ruling arose from an investigation into the Seed Movement by Guatemala’s attorney general’s office for alleged irregularities in the gathering of signatures for its formation as a party.
If the Seed Party appeals the ruling, as promised, the case will be taken to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
The Tribunal outranks the electoral registry, so the victory by Arévalo and the seats won in parliament by Seed Movement lawmakers in the first round elections appear confirmed. But the impact of the suspension of their party would have is unclear.
The announcements come after one of the most tumultuous elections in the Central American nation’s recent history, which has put to test Guatemala's democracy.
At a time when Guatemalans, hungry for change, have grown disillusioned with endemic corruption, Arévalo and other opponents of the country’s elite faced waves of judicial attacks in an attempt to knock them out of the race.
Arévalo, the little-known son of a former president, shocked much of the country by emerging as a top contender in the first round of presidential voting. He failed to get enough support to win outright and headed to a runoff vote against former first lady Sandra Torres. His rise had come after a handful of other candidates were disqualified.
Arévalo rapidly gained support, campaigning on social progress and railing against corruption.
"This message generated, aroused hope, mobilized people who were fed up with corruption,” he told the AP in a June interview.
Arévalo easily beat Torres in the Aug. 20 presidential runoff. According to the official count, the progressive candidate obtained 60.9% of the valid votes cast, against 37.2% for the right-wing Torres. The party also won 23 seats in the 160-seat Congress.
His win has been the source of a legal back-and-forth between various governmental entities and courts, some staffed with officials who have been sanctioned by the United States on charges of corruption. He has faced allegations of voter fraud by Torres, legal challenges and more.
Eight days after the runoff, Torres still hasn’t conceded defeat and outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei hasn’t said anything about the latest developments.
“It's obviously another attempt to subvert Semilla's (the Seed Movement's) path to power," said Alex Papadovassilakis, a Guatemala-based investigator for InSight Crime focused on crime and corruption. “I think we're entering uncharted waters.”
Arrest warrants for electoral officials and raids to the party’s headquarters have also caused concern in the international community and among Guatemalans.
Earlier this week, the Organization of American States’ human rights commission asked that Guatemala provide protection for Arévalo after reports emerged of a possible plot to kill him.
Arévalo’s victory has left much of the country’s political establishment reeling, while his supporters have held protests against attempts to thwart his taking office.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the attempts to undermine the results of Guatemala’s presidential election, a U.N. spokeswoman said earlier.
The 64-year-old son of former President Juan José Arévalo was born in Uruguay, where his father was in exile following the ouster in a 1954 CIA-backed coup of his successor President Jacobo Árbenz, whom the U.S. saw as a threat during the Cold War.
Janetsky reported from Mexico City.