Bernardo Arévalo, center, exceeded expectations to make it to the runoff. (AP)

Bernardo Arévalo, center, exceeded expectations to make it to the runoff. (AP)

Six Numbers to Understand Guatemala's Surprising 2023 General Election Results

By Chase Harrison

Bernardo Arévalo defied the polls to make the runoff, as null ballots got the most votes.

Guatemalans went to the polls on Sunday, June 25. Like every presidential race since the country’s return to democracy in 1996, there will be a runoff for the presidency, as no candidate received close to 50 percent of the vote. Top vote-getter Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope party will compete in the second round against Bernardo Arévalo of Semilla, who defied polls to capture the second spot. 

What do the results tell us about the state of Guatemalan politics? And what can we expect from the presidential runoff? AS/COA Online looks at six numbers to understand the results.

24.4 percent

That’s the number of voters who cast a blank or null ballot for the presidency despite having 22 candidate options. This high level of rejection from the electorate—far outpacing the 13.1 percent of blank or null voters in 2019—may reflect a general discontent with politics and anger over the disqualification of several of the election’s top contenders. Former presidential candidate Carlos Pineda, who was leading polls until he was disqualified, encouraged null voting and thanked the electorate for high rate of null voting. 

Moreover, only 60 percent of voters cast ballots. This was just slightly below the 61 percent turnout in 2019. Both figures are higher than the country’s 57-percent average turnout in elections. 

3rd election in a row

Sandra Torres will compete in the presidential runoff for a third time after receiving 15.8 percent of the vote. The former first lady, who divorced former President Álvaro Colom in 2011, won the most voters in the first round of the 2019 presidential election but lost in the second round to current President Alejandro Giammattei

Torres performed particularly well in Guatemala’s rural areas where her party has strong local organizations. To win, Torres, a proponent of expanding social assistance programs, will have to surpass an apparent ceiling of support. In Prensa Libre’s June survey, 41 percent of voters said they would never vote for her


That’s the year Juan José Arévalo, the father of Bernardo Arévalo, became Guatemala’s first democratically elected president after a popular uprising against a military dictator, as part of the Guatemalan revolution. 

Bernardo Arévalo, who got 11.8 percent of the vote, will attempt to follow his father’s footsteps by occupying the National Palace at a time when there are worries about the decline of democracy in Guatemala. After getting to the runoff, Arévalo said he’d work with exiled judges and prosecutors to organize a group against corruption. Arévalo, a former congressman and diplomat, has centered his platform on anti-corruption efforts. His party, Semilla, grew out of 2015 demonstrations against corruption.

6th place

This was the placement of presidential candidate Zury Ríos, the former congresswoman and daughter of deceased dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. Although polls had her as one of the tip contenders, Ríos underperformed and won just 6.6 percent of the vote.

Which other candidate who fell short of polling expectations? Edmond Mulet, the former congressman and diplomat, who was also a favorite to make the runoff. He finished fifth.

39 out of 160 seats in Congress

That’s the size of the legislative bench of Vamos, the party of outgoing President Giammattei, making it the largest party in the Congress. It’s a powerful performance by Vamos, which more than doubled their national legislators. Historically, incumbent parties have lost ground in elections in Guatemala. 

Torres’ UNE will be the second-largest congressional block with 28 seats. Arévalo’s Semilla will hold 23. There will be 17 parties  represented in Congress and alliances are yet to be determined. This divided Congress will make governing hard for either Torres or Arévalo, both of whom are center-left

56 days until the second round

During the eight weeks between the first-round election and the runoff on August 20, both Torres and Arévalo will attempt to attract supporters of other candidates and those who didn’t vote or voted null.