Celebrity outsider leads in Guatemala presidential elections

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Centrist outsider and television personality Jimmy Morales was leading in Guatemala’s presidential elections early Monday, as voters punished political elites in a country where the president resigned last week over a corruption scandal.

“People have had enough,” said Morales, 46, after four months of street protests. “The current situation is something no one can deny.”

Fourteen candidates took part in Sunday’s election, vying to replace Otto Perez Molina, who resigned after being stripped of his immunity and charged for his alleged involvement in an imports bribery scandal.

Perez Molina’s vice president, Alejandro Maldonado, was appointed to complete the mandate that runs until January.

Morales was leading with nearly 26 per cent, with about 80 per cent of votes counted. He is running for the National Convergence Front, a centrist nationalist party registered in 2008. The actor and producer has a background in military studies and as an entrepreneur.

Conservative Manuel Baldizon, who lost the runoff against retired general Perez Molina in 2011 and had been regarded as the favourite ahead of the election, was on 18.4 per cent. Former first lady Sandra Torres, a social democrat, got 17.6 per cent.

According to Guatemalan law, if none of the candidates gets more than half the votes, the top two first-round finishers are to face off in a runoff on October 25. It remained uncertain whether Morales would be up against Baldizon or Torres.

This was the first time in decades in Guatemala, with 7.5 million registered voters, that no presidential candidate got 30 per cent of the first-round votes.

“The people have spoken and we politicians have to hear their voice. We need to await the final results calmly,” Torres, the ex-wife of former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom (2008-12), said.

“Our commitment is that people may really find in us the options they did not find in other parties,” Morales said.

Election authorities have five days to complete a final count before declaring official results, and they were planning to use them given the close finish for second place.

Election day was calm, after months of anti-corruption protests in the Central American country.

The ex-president was in detention between court hearings on his charges. His former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, who resigned in May amid allegations of corruption, has been in prison since last month.

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez, who is investigating the case, got an ovation as he cast his ballot Sunday.

Voters were also electing 158 legislators, 338 mayors and 20 members of the Central American Parliament.

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