Guatemalan anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arevalo was voted in as president on Sunday, preliminary results showed, a victory many voters hope will reverse widespread allegations of graft and the authoritarianism of previous administrations.
Arevalo, a 64-year-old ex-diplomat and son of a former president, had built an unassailable advantage after 94% of the votes had been counted, scoring a 59% to 36% percent lead over former first lady Sandra Torres.
He assumes power as violence and food insecurity roil the country, triggering fresh waves of migration. Guatemalans now represent the largest number of Central Americans seeking to enter the United States.
After media outlets called the election outcome, some of Arevalo’s supporters took to the streets to celebrate. Many Guatemalans also said they hoped Arevalo’s win will herald a better future.
“I voted for Arevalo because he is the only option we have. Voting for Sandra is backing the same people who came before,” said Roberto Alvarez, a 74-year-old accountant, after casting his ballot in Guatemala City.
Torres cancelled her post-vote press conference scheduled for Sunday evening, local media reported.
Arevalo unexpectedly emerged out of political obscurity to build a large anti-graft movement with his Semilla party, after many other opposition candidates were barred from running.
His victory marks a repudiation of Guatemala’s established political parties that wield huge influence.
When Arevalo landed a surprise second-place finish in June’s first-round of voting, his party was briefly suspended at the request of a prominent prosecutor before Guatemala’s top court reversed the ban.
There were no reports of violence or disorderliness as polls closed.
A key representative of the Organization of American States (OAS), which has a team of 86 election observers in Guatemala, said the voting had gone smoothly. Eladio Loizaga, head of the mission, said the election had “fulfilled all the demanding obligations.”
The election is being closely watched by the international community, including the United States, after campaigning was marred by attempts by some officials to remove Arevalo and his Semilla party from the race.
Outgoing conservative President Alejandro Giammattei has vowed to ensure an orderly vote and transition of power.
But many Guatemalans remain skeptical, having seen the government in recent years expel investigators from a U.N.-backed anti-corruption body and target judges and anti-corruption campaigners, many of whom fled into exile.