Celebrity outsider leads in Guatemalan election, second place open

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

Since none of the 14 candidates obtained more than half the votes in Sunday’s election, the Central American country’s next president was to be decided in a run-off on October 25. The candidate who would face Morales was not immediately clear with a close race for second place.

With almost 98 per cent of the votes counted, Morales had 23.9 per cent. The actor and producer, who has a background in military studies and as an entrepreneur, is running for the National Convergence Front, a centrist nationalist party registered in 2008.

Former first lady Sandra Torres, a social democrat, got 19.62 per cent of the votes, according to the preliminary count, and 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 19.60 per cent.

Second place was therefore too close to call, with fewer than 1,000 votes between Torres and Baldizon in a country with 7.5 million registered voters.

“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.

This was the first time in decades in Guatemala 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,” said Torres, the ex-wife of former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom (2008-12).

“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.

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