Guatemalan Businessman, Ex-General Head to Runoff
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
ANTIGUA, Guatemala, Sept. 10 -- Three-time presidential candidate Álvaro Colom and former army general Otto Pérez Molina easily outdistanced 12 opponents in Sunday's presidential election and will face each other in a Nov. 4 runoff, according to results announced Monday.
With more than 96 percent of the votes counted, Colom, a businessman, had 28 percent, winning majorities in 16 of Guatemala's 22 states, known here as departments. But Pérez Molina, who got 24 percent of the votes, was able to force a runoff with a strong showing in heavily populated Guatemala City. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchú, the first indigenous woman to run for president of Guatemala, finished a distant sixth with 3 percent after drawing much international attention in the early days of the campaign.
"She built her reputation internationally, but did not do enough to earn the trust of indigenous people here in Guatemala," analyst Álvaro Pop said in an interview.
At least 50 candidates and political activists were killed in the run-up to the election, which included state and local races. Voting on Sunday was mostly peaceful, with a few scattered incidents of violence and one death in the central Guatemalan village of Tucuru, where local news reports said opponents of a mayoral candidate clashed with police. Turnout was heavy, with more than 3 million Guatemalans -- more than half the 6 million registered voters -- casting ballots.
The runoff promises to be a tight race, political analyst Gustavo Berganza said. Pérez Molina, who has vowed to use the military to combat drug cartels and rampant violence, appeared to be in position to pick up a large number of votes from supporters of Alejandro Giammattei, who finished surprisingly strong in third place. Giammattei, who represents current President Oscar Berger's Grand National Alliance, collected 17 percent of the vote after running a law-and-order campaign similar to Pérez Molina's.
Colom demonstrated tremendous organizational strength on election day, with his supporters rallying voters throughout the country, even in remote areas where political parties have traditionally been weak. Colom also appeared to be avoiding "errors he committed in 2003" when he aggressively attacked his opponent after the first round, turning off voters weary of political bickering, Berganza said.
"This time," Berganza said, "he's sounding more like a statesman."