Polls close in Guatemala presidential election

Campaign overshadowed by political turmoil, with corruption investigation resulting in the president’s resignation.

Woman waits to get his finger inked in Guatemala City
Many Guatemalans wanted Sunday's vote postponed as it offered little alternative to the old guard [Reuters]

The first results have started trickling in, hours after polls closed in Guatemala’s presidential election.

As of 03:00 GMT on Monday, political newcomer Jimmy Morales is leading the vote count, as the race looks set for an October run-off, said Al Jazeera’s Daniel Schweimler, reporting from Guatemala City.  

According to Guatemala’s election authority, Morales, 46, had 25.6 percent of the vote with 12.66 percent of ballots counted, while early favourite Manuel Baldizon, a conservative businessman, trailed with 21.2 percent.

To prevent an October run-off, a candidate is required to win at least 50 percent of the vote.

The campaign was dogged by allegations of corruption which prompted mass protests and a wave of political turmoil that overshadowed Sunday’s vote.

“People here are very cynical about their politics and their politicians,” Al Jazeera’s Schweimler said. “They want a clean politician emerging from all of this to lead them through what will be a very difficult time.” 

Otto 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.

Interim President Alejandro Maldonado talks to Al Jazeera

Perez Molina spent the weekend in a military jail.

But a second major demand was not met: the postponement of Sunday’s election that many said offered little alternative to the old guard.

Alejandro Maldonado, a 79-year-old conservative who became vice president in May, will serve out the rest of Perez Molina’s term, handing over power on January 14, 2016.

He said he sees restoring confidence in state institutions as his main task.

“I have the task of choosing a government made up of tried and trusted, mature people who believe in our institutions,” he told Al Jazeera in Guatemala City.

“But I also want to incorporate youngsters, social activists, to give those generations the opportunity to build the future.”

Leading in most polls prior to the election, with roughly 30 percent backing, was Baldizon, a wealthy 44-year-old businessman and longtime politician.

His running mate is accused by prosecutors of influence trafficking but as a candidate, he has immunity from prosecution.

Competitive rivals

Baldizon’s most competitive rivals are a comedian with no political experience, a former first lady and the daughter of a former absolute ruler accused of genocide.

Baldizon has acknowledged Guatemalans’ disgust with crime, corruption and impunity.

His campaign website promises a “modernisation of the democratic state” to reform government and combat poverty and social inequality.

Inside Story: Can corruption be wiped out in Guatemala?

Critics see Baldizon, who finished second in the last presidential race, as an example of what is wrong with the country’s political class.

He initially campaigned on the slogan: “It’s his turn” – a reference to the fact that the last four elections have been won by the previous runner-up.

At protests, demonstrators have chanted: “It’s not your turn.”

After Baldizon’s campaign blew through the legal ceiling on electoral spending, he continued pouring money into his campaign, ignoring court orders to stop.

 Few believe the election will solve Guatemala's deep problems like a 70 percent poverty rate and a pernicious gang influence [Reuters]
Few believe the election will solve Guatemala’s deep problems like a 70 percent poverty rate and a pernicious gang influence [Reuters]

Baldizon’s campaign also says a lot about the country’s chronic insecurity.

He wore white bulletproof vest designed to look like a jacket on his stops, travelling in a helicopter or armoured vehicle and accompanied by bodyguards toting automatic weapons.

Baldizon’s closest rivals included Morales, a TV comic who boasts of his outsider status, and Sandra Torres, who divorced Alvaro Colom, a former president, in advance of the last presidential race to try to get around rules governing elections.


Also on the ballot is Zury Rios. Her father Efrain Rios Montt faces charges of crimes against humanity for killings by security forces during his 1982-83 rule.

“We’re waiting for them to return everything they stole and we’re talking about a lot of money. We need hospitals,” Ana Aragon, a protester, told Al Jazeera.

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

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]
Baldizon, a businessman and longtime politician, had been leading in most pre-election polls [AP]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies