Colom is running for president for the third time [AFP]

Alvaro Colom, the left-leaning candidate vying for Guatemala's presidency, has inched ahead of rival Otto Perez Molina, a retired general, with more than a third of ballots counted.

Colom, a soft-spoken factory owner, secured more than 51 per cent of the votes in the presidential run-off in his third bid for the post, while Molina picked up just under 49 per cent.

 

Colom, 56, won by 4.7 per cent in the first round poll in September when parliamentarians and mayors were also elected.

 

The electoral tribunal said full results could be out as early as Monday.

 

Voter apathy

 

About six million of Guatemala's 13 million people were registered to cast ballots in Sunday's election but voter apathy was apparent as few trickled into polling stations.

 

Focus

Crime the issue in Guatemala

Mariana Sanchez, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Guatemala City, said the general mood during voting was dull and there were no queues outside voting centres.

 

"There is a sense of apathy here," she said. "There is a belief the new president will not be able to deliver on his promises as they have not been able to in the past."

Diego Garcia-Sayan, the head of the electoral observation mission from the Organisation of American States, told Al Jazeera that it was not unusual for the second round of voting to be lower than the first in Guatemala.
 
"Maybe it's because in the second round people don't vote again for mayors or people who represent them in the congress which probably it's a person they know more than the candidates to the presidency that would make them feel they are a little bit far away," he said.

 

The winner will take over as president from Oscar Berger on January 14.

 

September's first round vote was a crushing defeat for Rigoberta Menchu, who won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her indigenous rights activism but who trailed far behind with just 3 per cent of the ballots.

 

Menchu is an indigenous Maya, the ethnic group that makes up the country's majority, who often live in poverty and were the main victims of the country's civil war.

 

Different positions

The preliminary results for the second round showed Molina, a former head of army intelligence who has promised tough action against violent drug cartels and youth street gangs, falling out of favour with voters after posting a slight lead earlier.

Colom, left, or Molina will take up the
presidency on January 14 [AFP]

He had said that he would use the army and emergency laws to fight a brutal crime wave in the Central American nation.

 

Colom campaigned on promises to tackle the country's endemic corruption and alleviate crushing poverty as a means to combat crime.

 

"We have had a strong hand for 50 years and it caused more than 250,000 victims in a dirty war," he said, accusing Molina of trying to lead them back into the Cold War era.

 

He has admitted that organised crime is present in his party and some voters say he is not tough enough to fix the nation's problems.

 

Violence

Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world and about 6,000 people were murdered in the country last year.

About 50 candidates and supporters were killed before the first round of voting, and a further five political murders were reported since then.

 

The country has been plagued by violence for much of its recent history.

 

The army ruled the Central American country for decades until the mid-1980s and committed hundreds of killings.

 

As many as 200,000 people are thought to have been killed during 36 years of civil war before the government and left-wing rebels made peace in 1996.

 

The country is a major transit point for cocaine shipped to the United States, and drug cartels have grown in influence in recent years.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies