Guatemala presidential race set for run-off

Jimmy Morales leads with most ballots counted, with two candidates running neck and neck for second spot in run-off .

    With more than 80 percent of votes counted, TV comedian Jimmy Morales led with 25.8 percent of votes [Reuters]
    With more than 80 percent of votes counted, TV comedian Jimmy Morales led with 25.8 percent of votes [Reuters]

    Guatemala appears set for a presidential run-off in October after early results from Sunday's poll showed no candidate receiving close to the 50 percent of ballots needed to win the election outright.

    With just over 81.5 percent of votes counted by early Monday morning local time, TV comedian Jimmy Morales led with 25.8 percent of votes, followed by veteran politician and businessman Manuel Baldizon, with about 18.6 percent of votes cast.

    Baldizon is followed closely by former first lady Sandra Torres, who has 17.9 percent. 

    Electoral officials said early signs showed the turnout was high, at 80 percent, though official confirmation was not expected until later, the Associated Press news agency reported.

    Interim President Alejandro Maldonado talks to Al Jazeera

    A run-off between the top two candidates would take place in late October.

    'Very cyncial'

    Al Jazeera's Daniel Schweimler, reporting from Guatemala City, said there was deep distrust among Guatemalans towards the political elite.

    "People here are very cynical about their politics and their politicians," Schweimler said.

    "They want a clean politician emerging from all of this to lead them through what will be a very difficult time."

    Most of the candidates running were old-guard figures picked to run before energised prosecutors backed by a mass anti-corruption movement toppled Otto Perez Molina's administration.

    Many voters were so sceptical that they campaigned for the election itself to be postponed to give them a new crop of choices.


    Inside Story: Can corruption be wiped out in Guatemala?


    Perez Molina resigned as president and was jailed on Thursday following a corruption investigation.

    Tens of thousands who demonstrated for his removal got part of their wish when he resigned to face possible corruption charges in a customs fraud scheme.

    According to a UN commission, Guatemalan politics are heavily financed by drug traffickers and other criminal networks in return for protection and favours.

    Few believe the election will solve Guatemala's deep problems like a 70 percent poverty rate and a pernicious gang influence [Reuters]
    A recent report by the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated that 50 percent of party financing is dirty: from bribes and money laundering to influence peddling and tax evasion.

    The report estimated that the national cost of corruption is $560m, or six percent of Guatemala's annual budget.

    Some critics urged voters to go to the polls wearing black clothes of mourning, abstain, or cast null ballots.

    Few believe that Sunday's election will solve deep problems like a 70 percent poverty rate, 50 percent child malnutrition, pernicious gang influence and one of the world's highest homicide rates.

    Baldizon, a businessman and longtime politician, had been leading in most pre-election polls [AP]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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