Guatemalans are preparing to vote in a closely contested presidential election that is being held amid an economic downturn and allegations of corruption. More than a million citizens are expected to cast ballots on Sunday to choose between two main candidates and 19 others running for the country’s top job. The leading contenders are far-right conservative Alejandro Giammattei, a former prison director, and former first lady Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope party. If none of the candidates obtain an absolute majority of the votes, a second round of voting will take place on August 11.
Polls suggest that Giammattei is the front-runner, thanks in part to his promise to fight corruption and tackle crime. The Central American nation has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with more than 4,200 people killed in 2018 alone. Giammattei has vowed to improve the country’s security through tougher laws and harsher punishments.
Meanwhile, Torres has promised to reduce poverty and create more jobs. The 63-year-old has promised to introduce a universal basic income for all citizens, as well as government job-training programs to create more opportunities for Guatemalans. She has also pledged to increase education spending and reduce the cost of healthcare.
The election is taking place at a time of public discontent over corruption allegations against outgoing President Jimmy Morales. In a deal with the UN’s International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Morales will be immune from prosecution until he leaves office.
The election is widely seen as a test for Guatemalan democracy, as the country has a long history of political and economic instability. Guatemala also recently experienced a sharp rise in migration to the US, with Canadian and US Customs and Border Protection statistics showing an increase of almost 80% in the number of Guatemalan migrants entering the US since October 2018. What’s more, poverty levels remain high, with around three-quarters of the population living below the poverty line.