Guatemala Presidential Race
Otto Perez Molina, a conservative former general who promises to crack down on violent gangs and drug cartels, finished first in Guatemala's presidential election Sunday but lacked the votes to avoid a November runoff.
With 95 percent of the votes tallied Monday, Perez Molina, who played major roles both in Guatemala's bloody civil war and in negotiating the 1996 peace accords that ended it, had won 36 percent, short of the 50 percent plus one vote required for outright victory. Manuel Baldizon, a wealthy businessman running as a populist, had 24 percent of the vote and seemed destined for the Nov. 6 runoff. In third place with 16 percent was Eduardo Suger, a 72-year-old academic who built a network of private universities.
Perez Molina, 60, had been polling stronger before Election Day, and his failure to win outright suggested that concerns among voters about his military past and his "iron fist" plans for crime-fighting may have been greater than polls showed. Still, Perez Molina told reporters early Monday that with the 10-person field winnowed to two, he expected to win. "We are confident that in the next round," he said, "we will win again and win by a strong margin."
The election, the fourth since Guatemala ended a 36-year civil war that left 200,000 people dead, was less marred by violence than the last election in 2007.
Voters waiting to cast ballots from the capital, Guatemala City, to the countryside over the weekend said they were motivated mostly by the fear of violent crime, which has become epidemic, with as many or more killings per day than during the war. Those who voted for Perez Molina said they appreciated his strategic experience and his plan to put a better-equipped military on the streets to fight crime.
Baldizon, 41, has also pledged to fight crime and the Mexican cartels, which are strong in the northern border region where Baldizon has built a network of businesses. His campaign emphasized a plan that would require companies to give workers an extra paycheck, which Parliament would likely not support in a country long controlled by a powerful corporate sector.
But he has also said he would expand the Guatemalan National Guard and increase use of the death penalty, even if it meant pulling out of regional human rights agreements.
Experts say the get-tough approach of both candidates highlights how desperate Guatemalans have become.