Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Conservative Alejandro Giammattei wins elections

Published:Tuesday | August 13, 2019 | 12:13 AM
Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos party, arrives to the Electoral Supreme Court headquarters for interviews with the press after partial election results were announced in Guatemala City on Sunday.
Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos party, arrives to the Electoral Supreme Court headquarters for interviews with the press after partial election results were announced in Guatemala City on Sunday.

GUATEMALA CITY (AP):

Conservative Alejandro Giammattei has blazed a long, strange path to Guatemala’s presidency, which he won on his fourth try.

The 63-year-old spent several months in prison in 2008, when he was director of the country’s prison system, after some prisoners were killed in a raid on his watch. He was eventually acquitted of wrongdoing.

Until courts prevented some of the more popular candidates from running in this year’s race, he also appeared to be a long-shot candidate in a tumultuous campaign season.

But on Sunday, his get-tough approach to crime and his socially conservative values, including his strident opposition to gay marriage and abortion, finally found favour with Guatemalan voters in a presidential run-off.

Leaning on the crutches he uses because of his multiple sclerosis, Giammattei acknowledged in his emotional victory speech that it had been a long road.

“We won. We are very excited; it is logical, it has been 12 years of struggle,” Giammatttei said. “Twelve years waiting to serve my country.”

With about 98 per cent of polling places reporting, the country’s Supreme Electoral Council said that Giammattei had about 58 per cent of votes, compared to about 42 per cent for former First Lady Sandra Torres.

About eight million Guatemalans are registered to vote in the Central American country. In a nation beset by poverty, unemployment and migration issues, however, turnout as low as 45 per cent appeared to suggest widespread disillusionment with the political status quo in general.

“I just hope Giammattei keeps his promises, and really fights corruption,” said Guatemala City resident Leonel Regalado. “We hope he won’t steal, because that would be too much for him to steal as brazenly as (outgoing President) Jimmy Morales has.”

The presidential campaign was marked by a chaotic succession of judicial decisions, intrigues, illegal party changes and accusations of bad practices that truncated the candidacies of two of the three presidential favourites.

Giammattei’s key rival Torres, who had been married and divorced to former President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), focused on improving education, healthcare and the economy during the campaign. She also proposed an anti-corruption programme, but her Unity for Hope party came under fire because some of its mayoral candidates were accused of receiving contributions from drug traffickers for their campaigns.

She became a key contender after Chief Prosecutor Thelma Aldana was barred from the race on the grounds that she lacked a document certifying that she didn’t have any outstanding accounts from her time overseeing a public budget as prosecutor.

Oscar Argueta, secretary general of the Unity for Hope party, conceded defeat on Sunday.

The new president takes office January 14 and will most immediately face the task of attempting to stem the large flow of migrants headed towards the United States. At least one per cent of Guatemala’s population of some 16 million has left the country this year.