On Sunday, June 16, Guatemala will hold its first round of general elections. This election will decide the country’s next president, as well as renew 160 seats in a unicameral legislature, 20 seats in the Central American Parliament and local posts in the country’s 340 municipalities. Guatemala currently has 8.1 million eligible voters.
Since 1985, no president has received an absolute majority of votes during the first round. If this is the case again, a runoff election is scheduled to take place on August 11. Since the start of the presidential race, Zury Ríos and Thelma Aldana have been the top two candidates. That was until in two separate rulings the Constitutional Court removed both from the ballot. In what appears to be a politically motivated case, Aldana, the former pioneering attorney general is accused of corruption, while Ríos is ineligible to run because of her familial ties to ex-dictator, Efraín Ríos Montt. Mario Estrada, a third presidential hopeful, was arrested in April 2019 for allegedly making a deal with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel in which Estrada is accusing of ordering the murder of his rivals, plotting to traffic cocaine into the United States, and acquiring over $10 million illegally to fund his presidential campaign.
As a result the election on Sunday will be decided between 18 candidates, none of which hold an overwhelming majority. Nevertheless, based on a Cid Gallup national poll conducted in May 2019, these are the top five candidates in alphabetical order, their bios and their political stances ahead of Sunday’s election.
Top five contenders
Roberto Arzú is part of the PAN-Podemos party and is running for the first time with the support of conservative voters from urban areas. With little experience in government, Roberto Arzú is best known for being the son of former President and Guatemala City Mayor Álvaro Arzú. In 2017, Roberto Arzú was promoted by President Jimmy Morales to the ambassador of a mission to promote trade between Guatemala and South America, days after publicly supporting President Morales’ decision to prevent Iván Velásquez, the head of the anti-corruption commission CICIG, from returning to the country. Though Arzú is running on a tough stance against crime, in March 2019, a warrant was issued for Arzu’s arrest for failing to appear before a Miami court over an outstanding debt for consultancy services to the firm JJ Rendón y Asociados Creatividad y Estrategia, Inc. Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has not ruled on this case, and it has had little effect on Arzu’s popularity in the presidential race.
Edwin Escobar is known as an entrepreneur and politician. He has been the Mayor of Villa Nueva since 2012 and President of the National Association of Municipalities of the Republic of Guatemala since 2016. Escobar joins the Presidential race as part of the right-wing party Prosperidad Ciudadana. Escobar was a political advisor to Alejandro Giammattei during his 2007 presidential run where he came in third place. In 2010, Escobar helped found the Asociación por una Mejor Guatemala and funded the production of a geo-tracking crime detection tool called Seguridad para Nuestra Comunidad (SPNC) that contributed to reducing the crime rate in Villa Nueva by 32 percent in the first nine months of 2012. Despite these important contributions, Escobar has faced difficulties during his presidential campaign. Most recently, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE–the electoral tribunal) revoked Escobar’s candidacy for President. Escobar rejected this claim and presented himself in front of the Constitutional Court (CC) on June 10 to file an action of protection against the TSE’s decision, hoping to still be on the ballot on Sunday. The CC has not yet made a decision.
Alejandro Giammattei is running for the fourth time after already appearing on the ballot in 2007, 2011 and 2015; in each election he has run for a different party. In 2007, Giammattei represented the Great National Alliance (GANA); in 2011, Giammattei represented the Social Action Center Party; and in 2015, Giammattei represented the FUERZA party. This time, he is running for the Vamos party. Vamos is a newly founded, right-wing political party that currently holds no seats in Congress. Giammattei is the former director of the Guatemalan Penitentiary System and was jailed for a short time in 2010 due to his involvement with the Pavorreal Case. He has since been exonerated of all charges. Giammattei also participated in electoral activities in 1985, 1988 and 1990. His involvement led to his relevance in the political world under former Vice President Arturo Herbruger Asturias.
Edmond Mulet is the leader of the right-wing Humanist Party of Guatemala and has been a diplomat and politician for decades. Mulet was first elected to Congress in 1982 and remained a congressman until 1991. During his years in Congress, Mulet was involved in the Guatemalan Peace negotiations, the Esquipulas Accords, and was a member—and later delegate from the executive branch—of the Guatemalan-Belize Commission. From 1992 to 1993, Mulet was the President of the Congress of Guatemala. In 1993, Mulet was appointed Ambassador to the United States, a position that he kept until returning to Guatemala in 1996 when he was elected general secretary of the Unión del Centro Nacional party. In 2005, Mulet entered the UN system as the United Nations Special Representative for Haiti, and since then, has held many positions including Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Chef de Cabinet of former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, head of the MINUSTAH, and head of the UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Investigative Mechanism. For many years, Mulet also worked as a journalist and as a legal counselor in public institutions and in the private sector. Despite Mulet’s extensive experience in politics, he has been doing poorly in the polls.
Sandra Torres is former President Álvaro Colom’s ex-wife. Torres is affiliated with the left-wing National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, her ex-husband former party. Torres has tried to run for president twice already but has been unsuccessful. In 2011, she divorced Colom to run for president, but the Constitutional Court denied her candidacy because she was still considered the partner of a sitting president. In 2015, Torres ran again but lost to Jimmy Morales in the second round of votes. She placed second in the 2015 election with 19.76 percent of the vote. Torres has centered her campaign on the reform and development of social programs. She is currently the most popular candidate according to polls.
Who will make it to the second round?
A Gallup poll of 1,747 people from May 8 to13 (before the Constitutional Court ruled out Aldana and Ríos) revealed—not including those who can no longer run—are Sandra Torres with 21 percent of votes and Alejandro Giammettei with 9 percent of the vote as the top two in the field. The survey also demonstrated that 66 percent of participants did not have a preference for a political party, which leaves the race clouded with uncertainty.
The fact that the top two candidates in this race have such low levels of support indicates that not only is no single candidate resonating with voters, but that it is almost certain that there will be a second round of voting. The UNE, Sandra Torres’s party, was the party that received the most preferential votes, but it was only 11 percent.
An opinion poll also demonstrated that governmental corruption is one of the highest-ranking problems for Guatemalan citizens. This is paradoxical since no candidate has taken a robust anti-corruption stance in his or her campaign. Giammattei has commented on corruption and stated that he feels it should be combatted through a national solution that does not depend on the attorney general. Whether a vague promise to combat corruption without the country’s top law enforcer will be enough for Giammettei to catapult him to a second round with Torres or whoever will be seen this Sunday.