Scandal-hit Guatemala’s presidential race looks set for run-off

Guatemala looked bound for a presidential election run-off as results showed the three leading candidates splitting the vote on Sunday, prolonging political uncertainty just days after a graft scandal toppled the president.

Otto Perez resigned as president on Thursday and spent election day in jail while a judge considered charging him over a customs corruption racket, plunging the poor Central American country into its worst political crisis in two decades.

Comic actor Jimmy Morales led Sunday's election race, buoyed by voters' anger over corruption. He had 26.5 percent support with returns in from 48.7 percent of polling stations, although he was far short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory.

Manuel Baldizon, a conservative businessman who had until recently been favored to win, trailed with 18.1 percent and was fighting against Sandra Torres, a former first lady with around 17 percent support, for a place in the October 25 run-off.

Morales, a 46-year-old centrist, won support late in the campaign, in part with a slogan "not corrupt, not a thief" that resonated with voters.

"We have suffered such great disappointments that you end up telling yourself there is no one to put your trust in," said housewife Lidia Mendoza, 38, before polls closed. She said she voted for Morales precisely because he was a political outsider.

While Morales has not laid out a clear political agenda, he has vowed to fight poverty by improving education and decentralizing the budget and government powers.

"Guatemala wants change and to not be governed by people with dark pasts," a smiling Morales said after voting near Guatemala City, flashing a victory sign to reporters. "I planted love in my homeland and now I'm harvesting that love."

Baldizon is a congressman for the center-right opposition Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (Lider) and promises to combat tax evasion, promote government austerity, modernize the state and curb corruption.

But graft allegations hurt his campaign when his vice presidential running mate, Edgar Barquin, a former central bank chief, was accused of criminal association and influence trafficking by a powerful United Nations-backed anti-graft commission. Barquin has not been charged.

Leftist candidate Sandra Torres, the ex-wife of former President Alvaro Colom, has vowed to fight poverty by increasing social spending by 0.5 percent of gross domestic product.

Mario Garcia, the candidate from Perez's right-wing Patriot's Party, lagged way behind the front-runners with around 4 percent support.

Perez, a retired general who came to power in 2012 promising to be tough on crime, was set to leave office in January. Following his resignation, Congress transferred power to his vice president, Alejandro Maldonado.

Guatemala is Central America's largest economy but Maldonado's successor will be tasked with tackling a poverty rate that remains stubbornly high despite nearly uninterrupted economic growth since the end of a 1960-96 civil war.

(Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu and Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner,Kieran Murray and Nick Macfie)

Back to top button