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Guatemalan election is headed for runoff

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

GUATEMALA CITY -- Guatemala's presidential election appeared headed for a runoff between a former first lady and a former prisons chief after none of the 19 candidates won a majority of votes in Sunday's balloting.

With 98% of the ballots counted, the country's electoral tribunal reported Monday that former first lady and businesswoman Sandra Torres was leading with 25.7% of the vote. Alejandro Giammattei, a doctor who once ran the country's penitentiary system, was in second with 13.9%.

If those preliminary results withstand review by electoral authorities and any challenges by political parties -- a process officials said they expected would take five days or more -- the two will face each other in a runoff on Aug. 11.

Both had been favorites in preelectoral polls and held significant leads over the third-place candidate, Edmond Mulet, a longtime diplomat who garnered 11.1%.

It is Torres' third run for the presidency, and Giammattei's fourth try.

Their success this time suggests a sharp turn by voters toward traditional politicians -- unlike the current president, Jimmy Morales, a former television comedian who was elected four years ago with no previous political experience in what was widely seen as a rebuke to a corruption-riddled system.

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Term limits prevented Morales, whose presidency has itself been marred by graft allegations, from seeking reelection. His four-year mandate ends in January.

Sunday's election took place amid widespread voter discontent with persistent poverty and high crime. Many Guatemalans blame entrenched corruption for contributing to the mass exodus of Guatemalans to the United States -- a phenomenon that has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who has threatened to cut aid to Guatemala and other Central American homelands of northbound migrants.

"Every day more people leave the country because there is no way to make a living," said Luis Pirir, 32, a logistics consultant. "It's unsafe, there's no work, and the education system is bad."

Guatemala, home to 17 million, is the most populous nation in Central America. Its border with Mexico is a major transit point for U.S.-bound Central Americans.

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