By Kylie Madry and Cassandra Garrison
(Reuters) -International leaders celebrated the overwhelming victory on Sunday of Guatemalan presidential aspirant Bernardo Arevalo, a win which had long seemed out of reach for the anti-graft candidate in an elections process shaken by accusations of government intervention.
“A salute to the people and government of Guatemala for an exemplary election day, a true civic celebration,” Organization of American States (OAS) chief Luis Almagro posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Arevalo, a 64-year-old former diplomat and son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, nabbed 58% of votes versus former first lady Sandra Torres’ 37%, with nearly all votes counted late Sunday.
“The outcome of the vote is already very clear,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement. “It is crucial for all state institutions and all sectors of society to support and join in this effort in the interests of the country.”
Arevalo, who ran on a campaign of fighting corruption, faced an uphill battle at the polls. He came in a surprise second place in a first-round vote earlier this year, triggering a runoff. A number of other opposition candidates had been barred from running.
His competitor Torres alleged irregularities in the first round of voting and Arevalo’s party, Semilla, was briefly suspended at the request of a top prosecutor.
By Monday morning, Torres had yet to accept her loss publicly. In a press conference Sunday afternoon, the candidate, an ally to outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, said she was “worried” about the integrity of the vote.
Her UNE party said in a statement late Sunday it would take a position once the elections results were put out “with total transparency.”
An OAS representative, with a team of 86 election observers in Guatemala, said voting had gone smoothly and the election “fulfilled all the demanding obligations.”
An EU mission will put out a preliminary statement about its findings on Tuesday.
The EU, as well as governments such as Brazil and Norway, said they expected a peaceful transition of power.
However, the attacks on Arevalo are likely to continue, said Risa Grais-Targow, analyst at political risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group.
“The ruling pact will likely continue to target electoral officials and Arevalo’s Semilla party with investigations ahead of January’s change in government,” she said.
President Giammattei has vowed to ensure an orderly transition. He said on X he had congratulated Arevalo, and invited him to meet “the day after election results were finalized.”
Arevalo will face challenges once in office, as Guatemala is roiled by violence and food insecurity. Guatemalans now represent the largest number of Central Americans seeking to enter the United States.
“It will be six difficult months of a rocky transition,” Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue said. “As president, Arevalo will govern (with) a minority in Congress, with entangling alliances that will prevent him (from meeting) his agenda.”
From a macroeconomic standpoint, Arevalo will assume leadership of a country with strong fundamentals, but will likely struggle to implement his social agenda, analysts at JPMorgan wrote.
He will also need to get momentum going to reverse the damage done to Guatemala’s democracy, said former U.S. ambassador to the country Donald Planty.
“That’s not something one reverses in a short period of time,” Planty said, but added he hoped Arevalo can leave progress for his successor to build on.
After polls closed, Arevalo said he had already spoken with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele about Guatemala’s agenda with its neighbors.
Honduran President Xiomara Castro said on X she was sure, “We will unify the people of Central America.”
Taiwan also said it congratulated Arevalo on the win, despite the candidate’s promise to strengthen Guatemala’s ties with China alongside its longstanding alliance with Taiwan.
Guatemala is one of only 13 countries to maintain formal diplomatic ties with the Chinese-claimed island, and China holds that no country it has ties with can maintain separate diplomatic relations with Taipei.
(Reporting by Kylie Madry and Cassandra Garrison; Additional reporting by Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)
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