A former comedian best known for performing in blackface and an afro wig is the odds-on favourite to become Guatemala’s new president this Sunday when he faces a former first lady in the final stage of an election overshadowed by a corruption scandal that has rocked the country’s political elite. Jimmy Morales, an evangelical Christian who is backed by retired generals implicated in civil war atrocities, has built a clear lead in the polls despite having no political experience or clear policies. The comedic actor’s popularity soared unexpectedly amid the corruption scandal which has led to dozens of high-profile arrests and unprecedented mass protests across the country. Morales took 24% of the votes in the election’s first round which was held just days after then president Otto Pérez Molina was forced to resign over a multimillion-dollar bribery case. Pérez Molina, along with his former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti, is currently in jail awaiting trial for corruption, illicit association and bribery. Morales’s plain and simple campaign slogan – “not corrupt, not a thief” – capitalised on widespread public disillusionment with the status quo.
Irma Velásquez, 32, an accountant in Guatemala City who voted for Morales, told the Guardian: “I’m so fed up with corrupt politicians. Jimmy Morales is the only candidate who can change things.”
Morales, 46, is best known for the slapstick comedy show Moralejas, or Morals, which was broadcast for 15 years and spawned several films and live shows. Morales played various roles, including a bungling cowboy who accidentally became president, and a blackface character known as Black Pitaya, who spoke in an infantile voice and told self-deprecating jokes.
He has since defended the character – which also appeared on a line of shampoos and beauty products – by claiming he is adored by the country’s black Garifuna and indigenous Mayan communities.