The two top candidates in Guatemala’s presidential race are headed for a runoff after tallies Monday revealed neither had secured enough votes to win the election. Otto Perez Molina, a retired army general who pledged to take a tough stand on crime, garnered the most votes in Sunday’s elections.
With almost all of the ballots counted Monday night, Perez Molina had 36% of votes — far short of the more than 50% needed to win outright. His closest competitor, businessman Manuel Baldizon, had 23% of votes, said Guatemala’s election authority.
Observers from the Organization of American States criticized Guatemalan election officials’ apparent disorganization and slow vote-counting after Sunday’s election, the state-run AGN news agency reported. The watchdogs said they hoped the process would improve in the second round of voting, scheduled for November 6.
Dealing with widespread violence and the growing threat of organized crime figured heavily in the campaigns of all 10 candidates vying for the presidency.
Baldizon championed a crime-fighting plan called “Security Now!” Campaign posters for Perez Molina, who led in polls before Sunday’s election, featured a clenched fist. The 60-year-old retired general pledged to bring a “mano dura” — firm hand — to Guatemala’s highest office.
In a debate co-hosted by CNN en Español last month, Perez Molina called for “elite units of the army” to play a larger role in the nation’s battle against gangs and drug cartels.
But that proposed approach — and Perez Molina’s high rank in the military during Guatemala’s decades-long civil war — worries human rights groups both in Guatemala and abroad.