Guatemala sets lineup for presidential vote as critics slam disqualifications

Supporters of Sandra Torres, presidential candidate for the National Unity of Hope (UNE), attend a rally at a market as part of the kick off of her campaign, in Guatemala City, Guatemala March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Sandra Sebastian

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala's presidential race kicked off on Monday, a day after the electoral authority finalized its approved candidate lineup for the June election, even as critics blasted decisions to disqualify some candidates while allowing others to run.

Polls point to two conservative women as early presidential front-runners.

The Sunday registry of candidacies by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) launched the three-month campaign to succeed conservative President Alejandro Giammattei, who is prohibited by law from seeking a second term, as well as for seats in Congress and mayor's races across Central America's most populous country and biggest economy.

The TSE has come under sharp criticism for allowing aspirants implicated in corruption to run, at a time when Giammattei and his allies face mounting accusations of dismantling anticorruption efforts via arrests of judges and prosecutors.

The TSE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The list of approved presidential contenders for the June 25 first-round vote stands at nearly two dozen, and if no one secures a simple majority a runoff between the top two finishers will take place on Aug. 20.

One of the leading presidential hopefuls is Zury Rios, a 55-year-old conservative former congresswoman who was banned from participating in the previous election due to the country's constitutional prohibition on children of ex-dictators as candidates. But this time the TSE is allowing her to run.

The other leading contender is former first lady Sandra Torres, who finished second in the last two elections.

A recent CID-Gallup poll puts Rios and Torres at the top of the field.

In 2019, Torres, 67, was arrested and jailed on corruption charges, but last November was freed after the judge determined there was insufficient evidence to convict her.

Roberto Arzu, another aspirant for the top job, was prohibited from running due to what the TSE said was his unlawful early start to the campaign.

Thelma Cabrera, the only Indigenous presidential candidate, was also left out because her running mate, former anticorruption prosecutor Jordan Rodas, faces a criminal complaint from Giammattei's attorney general.

About four in 10 Guatemalans identify as Indigenous.

"The decision to disqualify these candidates is based on dubious grounds and could undermine the rights of the entire Guatemalan population to participate in free and fair elections," said Ana Mendez, Central America director for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Matthew Lewis)

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