Morales elected as Guatemala’s next president


– Former television personality Jimmy Morales obtained a resounding win in Guatemala’s presidential run-off Sunday, according to preliminary official results.

With almost 96 per cent of the votes counted, the centre-right political outsider had about 68.3 per cent, the Central American country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) said. His rival, former first lady Sandra Torres, a social democrat, had just under 31.7 per cent.

In his winning address late Sunday, Morales, 46, vowed to transform Guatemala into “a new country with responsibility and rights.”

“Guatemalans voted for change. This is a vote that aims to end corruption,” he told reporters.

Guatemala’s last elected president, Otto Perez Molina resigned last month and is now in jail, along with his former vice president, pending trial for corruption. Perez Molina, 64, a retired general and president since 2012, is set to be tried beginning December 21.

Torres conceded defeat and announced a “constructive opposition.”

“The people made their choice, and we respect that. We acknowledge the triumph of the candidate Morales,” Torres told reporters.

Morales’ supporters gathered to celebrate in central Guatemala City, around the headquarters of the winner’s party, the centre-right nationalist National Convergence Front (FCN).

No major incidents were reported during the election in which 7.5 million registered voters were called upon to cast their ballots, and 11 hours of voting ended at 0000 GMT.

Morales ran as an outsider to the discredited world of Guatemalan politics, and he had been regarded as the favourite in the race, according to opinion polls.

He is a TV personality, actor and entertainment businessman. The Sunday programme Moralejas, in which he starred with his brother, ran on Guatemalan television for more than 15 years.

He comfortably led the pack in the first-round election, a major leap from a previous political experience in 2011, when he came third in a bid for mayor in the Guatemala City suburb of Mixco.

His rise to political prominence materialized within a few months, as the corruption case that cost Perez Molina the job unraveled. He used social networks to leverage his fame into front-runner status.

Critics have said that, far from being an outsider, Morales has the support of military hardliners in the Central American country, though he has denied it.

Morales, who has a degree in business administration and a master’s in military strategy, is running on a platform of health education and economic development and vowing “zero tolerance” for corruption.

Torres, 60, the candidate of the social democratic National Union for Hope (UNE), is the ex-wife of former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom, who held the office from 2008-12. She was regarded as the candidate of the Guatemalan political class, tainted by recent scandals.

In the first round of voting on September 6, Morales got almost 24 per cent of the votes. With less than 1 per cent of the votes left to count, Torres had 19.76 per cent. Businessman Manuel Baldizon had 19.64 per cent, but cried foul and withdrew from the race.

Alejandro Maldonado, vice president at the time of Perez Molina’s resignation, stepped in to the top office after he left the job. Morales’ four-year term is to start in January, and he will face tough challenges including corruption, a serious budget deficit, debt and poverty.