Mon, Sep 07, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Guatemala goes to polls amid leadership furor

CANDIDATES:Manuel Baldizon, Jimmy Morales, Sandra Torres and Zulia Rios were four of the leading hopefuls among 10 others in the presidential election


An uncomfortable challenge confronted Guatemala’s presidential candidates yesterday: trying to win the votes of a nation that has put the last elected leader in court custody.

Most are old-guard candidates picked to run before energized prosecutors backed by a mass anti-corruption movement led the collapse of the outgoing administration. Many voters are so skeptical that they campaigned for the election itself to be postponed to give them a new crop of choices.

Leading in most polls with roughly 30 percent backing is Manuel Baldizon, a wealthy 44-year-old businessman and long-time politician. His running mate is accused by prosecutors of improper influence, but as a candidate has immunity from prosecution.

Baldizon’s most competitive rivals are television comedian Jimmy Morales, who has never held elective office, former Guatemalan first lady Sandra Torres and Zulia Rios, the daughter of a former leader accused of genocide.

If none of the 14 candidates reaches 50 percent, a run-off is to be held on Oct. 25.

A key question is the level of protest vote in the face of a corruption scandal that has forced Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti to resign. Both are in custody, accused of being involved in a customs kickback scheme.

Activists are urging voters to go to the polls wearing black clothes of mourning, abstain or cast null ballots. On the streets, it is hard to find a campaign poster that has not been covered with insults. Tens of thousands joined demonstrations asking for the vote to be postponed.

Baldizon, who finished second in the previous presidential race, initially campaigned on the slogan “It’s his turn” — a reference to the fact that the past four elections have been won by the previous runner-up. It struck many critics as a display of what is wrong with the nation’s politics.

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

Baldizon has acknowledged Guatemalans’ disgust with crime, corruption and impunity. His campaign Web site vows a “modernization of the democratic state” to reform government and combat poverty and social inequality.

However, after Baldizon’s campaign blew past the legal ceiling on electoral costs, he ignored orders to stop spending.

Morales, 46, boasts of his outsider status and says he is part of the uprising against corruption. He has promised greater transparency, including media review of government contracts.

Torres, 59, divorced former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom ahead of the previous presidential race to try to get around rules barring presidential relatives from running, but was still ruled ineligible.

A businesswoman and long-time political party figure, she is proposing a coalition government to respond to the concerns of outraged citizens.

Rios, 47, is the daughter of former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt, who faces charges of crimes against humanity for killings by security forces during his 1982-1983 regime.

She emphasizes her experience from 16 years in the Guatemalan Congress, where she promoted laws against discrimination, and drug and human trafficking.

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