A former television comic was heading for a runoff with either a wealthy businessman or a former first lady in voting for Guatemala’s next president, days after the Central American nation’s leader resigned over a corruption scandal. With about 79 percent of polling stations reporting early Monday, comedian Jimmy Morales, who has never held elective office, was leading with 26 percent of the vote. He was followed by businessman and longtime politician Manuel Baldizon, with 18.5 percent, and ex-first lady Sandra Torres, with 17.7 percent. Assuming no candidate in the field of 14 gets a majority, the top two finishers advance to a runoff to be held Oct. 25. “The people are showing that they do not want a group like that for the future,” Morales said, referring to Baldizon’s LIDER party.
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.
It is estimated that 38 people have died so far in the run-up to the Guatemalan 2011 general elections, an even higher number than was recorded during 2007 contest. The head of Guatemalan Civil Rights Office (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos) has described the current level of violence as “alarming,” and likely to worsen over the coming month, prior to the September 11 vote. An advisor to the presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina, who is currently tipped as the favourite to win, was also gunned down recently, along with his son.
According to Guatemalan NGO, Mirador Electoral, the pre-election period presents “high levels of danger” in at least 24 of the country’s 333 municipalities, due to the presence of criminal groups. As reported by Insight Crime, Mexican criminal gangs such as the Zetas have been stepping up their presence in Guatemala, which could explain the higher level of pre-election violence this year.