Weekly Report - 03 August 2023 (WR-23-31)

GUATEMALA: Arévalo surges clear

Arévalo enjoys 63%, according to a nationwide poll carried out between 18 and 27 July by CID Gallup and published on 2 August, a huge 26-percentage-point lead over Torres on 37%. This is a big move from the 15.5% of the vote he won in the first round in a crowded field, when Torres took 21.1% of ballots cast.

Arévalo came second in the first round appealing mainly to younger voters in urban areas. The survey probably understates support for Torres among more conservative rural voters, a demographic where her Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) has traditionally been strong. But the poll is not just encouraging for the Arévalo camp in terms of the headline figures. A total of 77% of respondents had a favourable image of Arévalo, well ahead of the 45% favourability rate for Torres. Tellingly, in the measurement of candidate attributes, 54% said they believed Torres was a liar, with a similar proportion describing her as corrupt. In contrast only 13% said Arévalo was a liar and 15% described him as corrupt.

Both candidates are due to hold a televised debate on 7 August, which could shift voter intentions. Torres is likely to ratchet up the scare tactics in the wake of the release of this adverse poll, while focusing on her tough security policies, promising to fight crime and build four new prisons.

Arévalo denounces scaremongering

Arévalo is already feeling the heat. Speaking during a press conference on 29 July, Arévalo said the discredited political class had responded to his unexpected passage through to the second round by “inventing [and] circulating lies, and running a disinformation campaign” against him and his party. “We are not communists, we respect private property, we want a responsible country and a competition-based economy,” Arévalo said.

On 27 July, Alberto Fuentes Knight, one of Semilla’s founders and a former finance minister (2008-2010), said he had taken a personal decision to leave the country in the light of the political persecution he was facing and the threat of detention. The decision came after police raids on Semilla’s offices and on the supreme electoral tribunal (TSE).

Manuel Sánchez de Nogués, the deputy head of the European Union (EU) electoral observation mission in Guatemala, expressed concern about “the persecution and harassment against the electoral tribunal and its officials, including the use of security equipment paraphernalia which is unbecoming under the law”. He went on to demand that the second-round ballot should be allowed to proceed “without any kind of interference”.     

Torres, meanwhile, downplayed any suggestion of foul play. She travelled to the US this week where she accused Arévalo of impugning the judicial system. Speaking in Washington, where she had travelled to take part in a talk organised by the Atlantic Council think tank, Torres maintained that the onus was on Arévalo to “clarify” the accusations of falsifying 5,000 signatures to register his party in 2018. Torres claimed that his explanations so far had been “inadequate and inappropriate”, adding that “the international community should know this”.

Arévalo had been due to take part in the Atlantic Council event but withdrew on the grounds that a dozen senior members of his party faced arrest warrants. He did take part in an online discussion with the think tank, however, on 26 July when he spelt out his priority policy proposals, including combatting corruption, but his campaign has been complicated significantly by the backdrop of threats to exclude him from the contest.

  • Corruption

Bernardo Arévalo unveiled a 10-point anti-corruption plan this week. The Semilla candidate said he would create a ministerial-level anti-corruption task force led by the vice president. Those found guilty of corrupt acts would face ‘civil death’ - a suspension of some of their political rights which would include a ban on seeking elected or other public office. This threat could spur corrupt members of the judicial and political elite to greater heights to thwart his electoral bid.

On 1 August, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, began a four-day visit to Guatemala in response to an invitation from the government. Almagro met President Alejandro Giammattei at the start of his visit, as well as members of the TSE, facing an ongoing attempt by government prosecutors to suspend Semilla. On 26 July, the permanent council of the OAS held an extraordinary session to discuss developments in Guatemala. Almagro denounced “repeated attempts to alter the popular will and attacks on the electoral authorities&rdq

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