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A leader of Guatemala's reformist party on the country's upcoming elections

EYDER PERALTA, HOST:

As I've noted, Guatemala's presidential runoff is in a couple of weeks. Three of the most popular candidates were disqualified before the first round. Two candidates remain - Sandra Torres, a political veteran, a former first lady who's promised to fight corruption, but she's been jailed for it in the past and is now the preferred candidate of the establishment - and Bernardo Arevalo, the leader of a small reformist party that surprised everyone by making it into a second round. The party has made fighting corruption the centerpiece of its campaign, but it has faced official harassment. Police raided their offices, and a judge has tried to knock them off the ballot. So far, they're still in the running, but the U.S. and other countries have raised concerns that the election won't be fair.

We contacted a member of the Semilla party, Guatemalan Congressman Samuel Perez Alvarez, as he was campaigning in Guatemala City. I asked him what's happened since his party came out victorious in the first round of presidential elections.

SAMUEL PEREZ ALVAREZ: Well, there has been a political persecution against our candidate. We don't know why we are being accused. They are not telling us who are they investigating or anything. And maybe it's something that they want to show to the media. But in our political program, the most important thing is to put an end to this corruption regime that has been the normal thing in Guatemala from the last maybe 20, 30 years. So all these political actors and economic elites that have been living from that regime, they're very afraid because we're going to put an end to that.

PERALTA: So as you've made clear, one of the central promises that your party has made is if you win the presidency, you're going to fight corruption. What's the plan?

ALVAREZ: Well, there are a lot of plans because it is not only, like, fighting against corruption, against political actors, but also changing the system that makes it very easy to commit acts linked to corruption. So we have to make changes in the public administration, change public institutions. We do not see the fight against corruption exclusively from the criminal prosecution. But we see the fight against corruption from public policy.

PERALTA: So does this mean that corrupt politicians won't go to jail?

ALVAREZ: No. We are going to start the investigation against corrupt politicians. But that is not the way because that's one just incentive after committing a crime linked to corruption. But we have to make it very hard in order to stop corruption from its roots. We cannot make that only by criminal prosecution. We have to change incentives.

PERALTA: Why do you think the U.S. in particular should pay attention to these coming elections in Guatemala?

ALVAREZ: Because the fighting against corruption is not only trying to get investigations in the public ministry against these political actors, but it's also changing the economic model in Guatemala or the economic system that is causing a lot of problems in terms of migration, for example. And I think that fighting against corruption is also fighting in favor of economic conditions in order to have investments. So I think that is important for the United States, but also for Guatemalan people.

PERALTA: We talked about the presidential elections, how his party likely made it into the second round only because the leading candidate was disqualified by a court widely seen as corrupt. He acknowledged these elections lacked legitimacy. So I asked him if his party was part of the same game.

ALVAREZ: Well, right now that is the only option. But it could be if they win this election the last time that we are, like, trying to participate because they do not have the public support. So they have to find ways to stay with the same corrupt system, and that is via dictatorship.

PERALTA: That's Samuel Perez Alvarez, a congressman for the Movimiento Semilla party in Guatemala. Representative, thank you.

ALVAREZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.