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Former comedian leads Guatemalan election

Former comedian leads Guatemalan election

Former comedian leads Guatemalan election
September 07
17:16 2015


©Reuters

A comedian new to politics, whose slogan is “neither corrupt nor a thief”, won the most votes in presidential elections in Guatemala overshadowed by a mammoth government graft scandal, but will face a second round run-off on October 25.

Jimmy Morales, who secured 24.08 per cent of the vote after a late surge, had a wider-than-expected lead over Manuel Baldizón, who had topped the polls for months.

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The election was heading for a second place photo-finish with Sandra Torres, former first lady, appearing on course to face Mr Morales in the run-off. She polled 19.53 per cent of the vote, with 97 per cent of votes counted, to 19.46 per cent for Mr Baldizón, according to the electoral tribunal.

Mr Morales, who sold bananas as a boy to make money and played a sombrero-wearing cowboy who becomes president in one of his films, told Guatemalan television he did not mind who he faced in the second round, but the clear protest vote showed “people no longer want corruption”.

Guatemala has seen five months of street protests against government corruption scandals as voters have grown deeply frustrated with the political establishment.

Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who was catapulted to power in 2011 promising to combat crime with an “iron fist”, went from president to prisoner last week.

In a dramatic denouement to months of mounting scandal, the former president was stripped of immunity, forced to resign and jailed after being engulfed by a snowballing customs fraud scandal that has decimated his cabinet. A judge will decide on Tuesday whether he should face trial. He maintains his innocence.

“Recent developments are a clear signal that Guatemalan society and its institutions have really evolved and acquired a sense of independence and a quest for accountability and justice that they [politicians] may not have perceived Guatemala had,” said Julissa Reynoso, a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western hemisphere and a professor at Columbia University.

“That, at a minimum, is a warning to future leaders and elites from both the public and private sectors that things are not as they used to be,” she added.

Mr Baldizón, who enjoys widespread support in the most populated areas but has been fined for breaking campaign rules, lost out in the run-off in the last elections four years ago. Ms Torres divorced her husband, former president Alvaro Colom, in a failed bid to qualify to run in those elections.

Sunday’s election was marred by allegations of vote-buying and claims that parties transported voters to the polls.

Mr Morales spent more than 10 times less on his shoestring campaign than the populist Mr Baldizón, but raises hackles among some voters since he is backed by former military officers in his National Convergence Front (FCN).

A UN-backed commission whose investigations unearthed the corruption scam in which prosecutors say Mr Pérez Molina played a key role says half of Guatemalan party financing comes from government contractors, a quarter from businesses and the rest from organised crime, especially drug trafficking groups.

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