GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemalans on Sunday voted for a brand new president, who will face the daunting problem of curbing drug gang violence that has ravaged the nation and helped spur unlawful immigration to the USA, stoking tensions with President Donald Trump.
Sandra Torres, presidential candidate for the Nationwide Unity of Hope (UNE) casts her vote at a polling station in the course of the first spherical of the presidential election in Guatemala Metropolis, Guatemala, June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria
Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. (0000 GMT). Not one of the 19 candidates is anticipated to win an outright majority, which means the highest two finishers will possible face off in a second spherical on Aug. 11.
Former first girl Sandra Torres, of the center-left UNE social gathering, has led the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a conservative former tv host whose time period has been blighted by accusations of corruption made by U.N.-backed investigators.
Torres, who desires to ship troops into the streets to combat drug gangs, and use welfare packages to deal with poverty, has the help of about 20 p.c of the citizens, opinion polls confirmed.
“Now we have to type out our issues right here, and a part of the rationale for the migration is the dearth of jobs, the hole in wages between the USA and right here,” Torres mentioned as she voted in Guatemala Metropolis. “We have to work with the enterprise group to revive the financial system and create jobs.”
Her closest rivals, trailing by just a few proportion factors, are conservatives Alejandro Giammattei, who’s working in his fourth marketing campaign, and Edmond Mulet, a former U.N. official whose candidacy has gained traction in current weeks.
Arriving to vote whereas driving a white automobile carrying his spouse and son, Mulet mentioned he had run an austere marketing campaign and was hopeful of creating the runoff.
Rampant violence and widespread discontent over corruption and impunity within the nation of 17 million have prompted increasingly more Guatemalans to flee for the USA.
The surge of exits has undermined Trump’s pledge to curb unlawful immigration, and the U.S. president has responded by threatening to chop U.S. support to Central America.
That prospect has brought on alarm in Guatemala, the place the legacy of the bloody 1960-1996 civil conflict nonetheless casts an extended shadow over the nation’s improvement.
Preliminary outcomes are on account of start coming in round 7 p.m. (0100 GMT).
With polls exhibiting it’s extremely unlikely any candidate will win greater than 50% of the vote, victory will possible rely upon candidates’ skill to construct a coalition for the second spherical.
Consultancy Eurasia Group mentioned on Friday that Torres would wrestle to win a runoff, given her excessive unfavourable scores and the flexibility of her possible opponent to unify conservative voters and safe help from the nation’s highly effective elites.
Morales, who’s barred by regulation from searching for re-election, took workplace in 2016 vowing to root out corruption after his predecessor was introduced down by a probe led by the U.N.-backed Worldwide Fee towards Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
As a substitute, Morales himself turned a goal of a CICIG probe into allegations of marketing campaign finance wrongdoing and was topic to impeachment proceedings in 2017.
He survived the try to oust him, after which engaged in a bitter dispute with the CICIG earlier than lastly terminating its mandate, efficient from September.
Not one of the prime contenders has unequivocally backed the CICIG, with Torres saying she would take into account holding a referendum on whether or not it ought to stay in Guatemala.
Fernando Escalante, 41, an industrial design adviser, mentioned the subsequent president should proceed the combat towards corruption.
“I concern all of the progress we’ve made could possibly be misplaced, however perhaps it’s time for us Guatemalans to tackle the duty,” he mentioned.
Questions of legitimacy have dogged the 2019 contest since two of the front-runners had been compelled out, together with Thelma Aldana, a former legal professional common who tried to question Morales with the CICIG. The federal government accused Aldana of corruption, resulting in her exclusion final month.
Allegations of shady dealings have permeated the election, which has been fought out amid intensifying efforts by Trump to show Mexico and Guatemala into buffer zones to maintain migrants from getting into the USA illegally.
Presidential hopeful Mario Estrada and congressional candidate Julio Jose Rosales had been arrested in the course of the marketing campaign and charged with having hyperlinks to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel.
Reporting by Sofia Menchu and Adriana Barrera; Enhancing by Nick Zieminski and Peter Cooney