Guatemala City, Guatemala – Guatemalans have voted in Alejandro Giammattei of the Vamos party as the country’s next president, hoping he will be able to address the issues of crime and security, as well as the concerns around his human rights record.
The 63-year-old conservative candidate and former surgeon won a runoff election with 58.26 percent of the votes after 98 percent of voting centres had been counted. He defeated former First Lady Sandra Torres from the centrist National Unity of Hope party, who received about 40 percent of the votes.
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“Today is a new period of the country,” he told supporters at the party’s headquarters in Guatemala City following his victory.
“Those who voted for us, those who did not vote for us, and those who did not go to vote, it does not matter. Today we need to unite, today I am the president of all Guatemalans.”
This is the fourth time that Giammattei has run for president of the Central American country – which is plagued by violence, poverty, and corruption. He has had multiple sclerosis for years and is reliant on crutches.
Giammattei will assume office on January 14, 2020.
Many who voted for him saw their votes as a vote against Torres, who stands accused of corruption and campaign finance violations during her 2015 presidential run against current President Jimmy Morales.
“I decided to vote against Sandra Torres because of the accusations of corruption,” Rosa Julaju, an indigenous Kaqchikel woman who lives in Guatemala City told Al Jazeera.
“I hope Giammattei confronts the violence in our country,” the 38-year-old street vendor said. “I voted for him for better security.”
Giammattei’s campaign focused on being tough on crime, promising to treat gang members “like terrorists”, legalise the death penalty and to bring in more funding to combat migration from Guatemala. For voters like Julaju, it is his stance on crime that contributed to her reasons to vote for him.
Human rights concerns
Giammattei’s victory has raised concerns among human rights defenders in Guatemala.
He has said in interviews that he would use force against protesters and has spoken out against the LGBT community.
“Giammattei has publicly said that he will not tolerate the actions of [protesters] that are part of a democratic system,” Claudia Samayoa, founder of the Guatemalan human rights organisation UDEFEGUA, told Al Jazeera.
“He has announced he will pursue evictions. He has said he will have zero tolerance of protests. He has stated he will have zero tolerance of the expressions of gender and LGBT identities. And he has said he will use whatever means against gangs,” she added.
“His discourse is extremist. Giammattei has shown he is capable of violating human rights in the name of peace.”
During his tenure as director of Guatemala’s penitentiary system, he was embroiled in a scandal over extrajudicial killings in a prison.
In 2010, he was arrested following an investigation by the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s office and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) but was acquitted after 10 months in pre-trial detention.
Giammattei denied any wrongdoing and was acquitted of all charges.
Sunday’s vote was marked by rampant absenteeism. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, only about 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots, much lower than they predicted.
The lack of participation is reflective of the frustration with the political options in the 2019 election, analysts said.
“There exists a profound apathy in these elections,” Renzo Rosal, an independent political analyst, told Al Jazeera.
“The parties and candidates do not represent anyone.”