Guatemala’s ex-first lady Torres short of majority in first-round vote

Centre-left candidate facing presidential run-off, with drug gang violence the big issue

Former first lady and candidate of the centrist National Unity of Hope Sandra Torres speaking to the press in Guatemala City on Sunday. Photograph: Esteban Biba/EPA

Former first lady and candidate of the centrist National Unity of Hope Sandra Torres speaking to the press in Guatemala City on Sunday. Photograph: Esteban Biba/EPA

 

Guatemala’s presidential election was headed for a run-off as results on Monday gave centre-left candidate Sandra Torres a clear lead but far short of the outright majority needed to avoid a second round against a conservative rival.

With votes tallied from 94 per cent of polling stations, preliminary results from Sunday’s election gave former first lady Ms Torres 25.27 per cent of the vote, followed by conservative Alejandro Giammattei with 14.08 per cent, the electoral tribunal’s website said.

Early on Monday, Ms Torres said she would work to forge alliances to win the second round run-off, which is due to be held on August 11th.

“The country needs unity: To unite the countryside with the city, to unite the workers with the business community, and also in civil society, in all sectors,” she told reporters.

The head of the electoral tribunal said late on Sunday it could take approximately two weeks to have definitive results from across the Central American country.

Guatemala’s next president faces the difficult task of curbing drug gang violence that has ravaged the country and helped spur illegal immigration to the United States, souring relations with President Donald Trump.

Ms Torres, of the centre-left UNE party, has for weeks led the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a conservative former television host whose term has been blighted by accusations of corruption made by UN-backed investigators.

Nevertheless, Ms Torres also has high negative ratings and may struggle to win a direct run-off if supporters of the many right-of-centre candidates unite against her.

Nineteen candidates took part in the vote. In third place with 11.32 per cent was Edmond Mulet, a former UN official whose conservative candidacy gained traction in recent weeks.

Ms Torres, who wants to send troops into the streets to fight drug gangs, and use welfare programmes to tackle poverty, extended a hand to Guatemala’s business elite when voting on Sunday.

Rampant violence and widespread discontent over corruption and impunity in the country of 17 million have prompted more and more Guatemalans to flee for the United States.

The surge of departures has undermined Mr Trump’s pledge to curb illegal immigration, and the US president has responded by threatening to cut US aid to Central America.

That prospect has caused alarm in Guatemala, where the legacy of the bloody 1960-1996 civil war still casts a long shadow over the country’s development. – Reuters