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Guatemala elects conservative Alejandro Giammattei president

By
Darryl Coote
 Alejandro Giammattei (C) of the Vamos party and the party's candidate for vice president Guillemo Castillo (2-R) celebrate victory during the preliminary election results at a press conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Sunday. Photo by Esteban Biba/EPA-EFE
 Alejandro Giammattei (C) of the Vamos party and the party's candidate for vice president Guillemo Castillo (2-R) celebrate victory during the preliminary election results at a press conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on Sunday. Photo by Esteban Biba/EPA-EFE

Aug. 12 (UPI) -- Guatemalans elected conservative Alejandro Giammattei as their next president, according to the South American country's Electoral Tribunal.

"Thanks, Guatemala!" Giammattei said in proclaiming his election victory on Twitter. "The confidence they placed in me will be the engine to continue our journey through a different Guatemala. Today, I become the top public servant of the nation and together, with the whole country, we will work to make the government that you deserve."

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With 95 percent of the vote counted, the Electoral Tribunal announced Sunday that Giammattei of the right-wing Vamos Party had received 59 percent of the presidential run-off vote to beat out three-time runner-up and former first lady Sandra Torres of the center-left National Unity of Hope Party. She earned 41 percent of the vote.

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Only 40 percent of the country's 8 million registered voters cast ballots in the election, a drop from 56 percent in 2015.

The drop is partially a reflection of voter apathy and a lack of confidence and trust as outgoing president and former comedian Jimmy Morales, who was ushered to the country's helm on a wave of public anger against corruption that forced President Otto Perez Molina to resign, has come under the scrutiny of a United Nations-backed commission for illegal campaign financing.

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Giammattei, 63, will also be taking over the country as it deals with a massive surge of residents fleeing for the United States.

Guatemalan refugees are one of the main groups reaching the United State's southern border seeking asylum, an issue that has dogged President Donald Trump since his inauguration and has only worsened in the last several months following on-month increases in the number of people reaching the border and mass criticism against his administration's policies concerning the treatment of migrants, particularly children, once they make it to the United States.

The issue of asylum seekers to the United States has seen the Trump administration exert influence over countries such as Guatemala in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees, which signed a "safe third country" agreement with the United States in late July under the threat of tariffs.

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However, Giammattei, the former chief of the nation's prison system, has opposed the unpopular deal signed in by his predecessor. He also ran on a platform that included building an "economic wall" through job creation to prevent the need for citizens to flee the country.

"We will focus on the construction of a different Guatemala," he said Sunday while proclaiming himself president-elect, the Washington Post reported.

Once inaugurated, Giammattei has the power to nullify the deal, which has been blocked from implementation by the country's highest court with a provisional injunction.

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