GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Monday declared progressive Bernardo Arévalo the winner of the country’s presidential election, but the prospect of him taking office on Jan. 14 was clouded by a decision by another government body to suspend his Seed Movement party.
No authority has explained exactly what the suspension by the electoral registry, confirmed to The Associated Press by the party’s lawyer, will mean for the president elect or for the Seed Movement lawmakers elected in the first round of voting in June.
But late Monday Arévalo called the registry's ruling legally void and said his party would appeal it.
“As of this moment, no one can stop me from taking office on Jan. 14,” he told a news conference.
The electoral registry's ruling arose from an investigation into the Seed Movement by Guatemala’s attorney general’s office for alleged irregularities in the gathering of signatures for its formation as a party.
If the Seed Party appeals the ruling, as promised, the case will be taken to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
The announcements come after one of the most tumultuous elections in the Central American nation’s recent history, which has put to test Guatemala's democracy.
At a time when Guatemalans, hungry for change, have grown disillusioned with endemic corruption, Arévalo and other opponents of the country’s elite faced waves of judicial attacks in an attempt to knock them out of the race.
Arévalo, the little-known son of a former president, shocked much of the country by emerging as a frontrunner after the first round of presidential voting. He failed to get enough support to win outright and headed to a runoff vote against former first lady Sandra Torres. His rise came after a handful of other candidates were disqualified.
Arévalo rapidly gained support as he posed a threat to the country’s elite, campaigning on social progress and railing against corruption.
"This message generated, aroused hope, mobilized people who were fed up with corruption,” told the AP in a June interview.
He easily beat Torres in the Aug. 20 presidential runoff. According to the official count, the progressive candidate obtained 60.9% of the valid votes cast against 37.2% for the right-wing Torres. The party also won 23 seats in the 160-seat Congress.
His win has been the source of a legal back-and-forth between various governmental entities and courts, some staffed with officials that have been sanctioned by the United States on charges of corruption. He has faced allegations of voter fraud by Torres, legal challenges and more.
Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal outranks the electoral registry so the victory by Arévalo and the seats won in parliament by Seed Movement lawmakers in the first round elections appear confirmed. But the impact of the suspension of their party would have is unclear and whether it could be used somehow against Arévalo's taking office.
“It's obviously another attempt to subvert Semilla's (the Seed Movement's) path to power," said Alex Papadovassilakis, a Guatemala-based investigator for InSight Crime focused on crime and corruption. “I think we're entering uncharted waters.”
Arrest warrants for electoral officials and raids to the party’s headquarters, have also caused concern in the international community and among Guatemalans.
Earlier this week, Organization of American States’ human rights commission asked that Guatemala provide protection for Arévalo after reports emerged of a possible plot to kill him.
Arévalo’s victory has left much of the country’s political establishment reeling while supporters of Arévalo have held protests against attempts to thwart his taking office.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern about the attempts to undermine the results of Guatemala’s presidential election, a U.N. spokeswoman said earlier.
Janetsky reported from Mexico City.