Guatemala body ratifies presidential vote result amid new bid to thwart victor

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemala's supreme electoral tribunal on Monday ratified the victory of center-left candidate Bernardo Arevalo in the country's presidential election, although a new bid to suspend his party sowed fresh confusion about the fraught process.

Arevalo, a 64-year-old ex-diplomat and son of a former president, resoundingly won the Aug. 20 second-round run-off after prosecutors had earlier threatened to bar his party, Semilla, from the election, prompting an international outcry.

Electoral tribunal officials declared Arevalo the victor at a press conference, then faced questions about a document from the citizens registry published in the media that ordered a temporary suspension of Semilla's legal registration.

In a press conference late on Monday, Arevalo said the suspension was illegal and the party would present an appeal at 7 a.m. the following day.

"The Semilla Movement will not give up," he said, denouncing what he called a process of political persecution against the party and his candidacy. He added that the registry had notified him of the suspension shortly before the official ratification.

Arevalo said he expected a call from current President Alejandro Giammattei to coordinate the transition and to take up the presidency alongside his deputy Karin Herrera on Jan. 14, 2024.

"These are the official results, and that's what counts in Guatemala," tribunal magistrate Gabriel Aguilera said.

Tribunal head Irma Palencia said the citizens registry was a lower authority and underlined that Arevalo was officially the winner.

The tribunal said Semilla had three days to file a suit against the suspension order, which Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre said had again come at the request of prosecutors.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador congratulated Arevalo on the win in a government statement expressing "concern over the different claims seeking to undermine the popular will as expressed in the polls."

The Organization of American States (OAS) also issued a statement saying the attempt to suspend Semilla was unjustified and an abusive interpretation of the law.

Late last week, the OAS human rights commission had called on Guatemala's government to increase security for Arevalo and Herrera, saying they were facing plots against their lives.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by Carolina Pulice and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Sarah Morland; Editing by Leslie Adler, Stephen Coates and Raju Gopalakrishnan)