Elections in Guatemala

On 25 June, more than 5 million voters participated in the first round of Guatemala’s 2023 General Election, casting their ballots for a new President, 160 Congressional representatives, 20 deputies at the Central American Parliament, and 340 municipal Mayors and Councillors.

Prior to that first vote, Guatemala’s Electoral Tribunal had rejected four candidates, alleging violations of electoral law and errors in paperwork, leaving 22 eligible candidates – far more than in any Guatemalan election since the country’s return to democracy in 1985.

Former first lady Sandra Torres, the frontrunner in pre-election polling, came out in the lead with 15.68% of the votes, in what is her third run at the presidency. She is candidate for the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (National Unity of Hope), a centre-left party.

Unexpectedly in second place, advancing with Torres into the run-off, was Bernardo Arévalo. The former diplomat, academic and activist, candidate for Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), also of the centre-left, received 11.78% of the vote. Arévalo is the son of former President Juan José Arévalo Bermejo (1945-51), the country’s first democratically elected president following the Guatemalan revolution.

With nearly a million votes (17.3%) spoiled in the first round – a higher percentage than any candidate received – a group of political parties, including Torres’, alleged potential irregularities and demanded a recount. At least six of the parties issuing complaints face possible dissolution, having failed to garner the minimum required votes to remain as a legally recognised party.

On 14 July, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, its highest, blocked an order by a lower court to ban Arévalo’s party from standing, over accusations of irregularities in the registration of some of its members. During the brief suspension, Torres’ party paused its campaigning in solidarity. Movimiento Semilla has since faced an ongoing criminal investigation, including a raid on its headquarters.

The runoff, between Sandra Torres and her unexpected rival Bernardo Arévalo, took place on 20 August. As predicted by most polls, Arévalo won 58% of the votes to Torres’s 37%. He still needs to be formally proclaimed president-elect to take office in January 2024.

On Tuesday 5 September, Canning House held this seminar, in which we discussed the election’s outcomes and significance for the future of Guatemala.


Moderator: Jeremy Browne

CEO, Canning House

From 2010 to 2012, Jeremy served as Minister of State for Latin America in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Since leaving elected office, Jeremy has served as the City of London Corporation’s Special Representative to the EU, worked as an International Business Ambassador for Aberdeen Standard Investments (abrdn), and advised the environmental investment firm Renewity.

Rachel Sieder

Senior Research Professor at the Center for Research and Graduate Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS), Mexico City

Rachel has an MA in Latin American Studies and a PhD in Politics from the University of London. She is an associate senior researcher at the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Bergen, Norway, and associate fellow at the Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London. Her research interests include: human rights, indigenous rights, social movements, indigenous law, legal anthropology, the state, and violence. 

Edgar Ortiz Romero

Lawyer, Director of Legal Studies at Freedom and Liberty Foundation, Professor at Francisco Marroquín University

Edgar is a lawyer and serves as the Director of Legal Studies at the Freedom and Liberty Foundation, which analyses the jurisprudence of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court and the legislative agenda of Congress. He is, also, a Law and Economics Professor at Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. Edgar read a Masters in Economics at Rey Juan Carlos University in Spain and holds a Bachelors degree in Law.

Manuel Melendez

2022-23 Peace and Security Scholar at the US Institute of Peace and a PhD candidate in Political Science at Harvard University

Manuel's writing and research on democracy and democratic backsliding in Central America have appeared in El Faro, the Journal of Democracy, Lawfare, and The Washington Post, among others. He holds an MSc from Oxford and a BA from Harvard College.

Claudia Mendez Arriaza

Founder and Co-owner of ConCriterio

Claudia covers current affairs and provides analysis and debate programmes on radio and television. She has participated in the founding of three leading media in information and analysis in Guatemala. She worked 14 years at the newspaper El Periódico as an editor and investigative reporter with stories focused on justice, drug trafficking and corruption. In 2012, she was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Claudia has received several national journalism awards and is a lecturer of journalism.


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