Guatemala and Nicaragua went to the polls yesterday to (re)elect their presidents; Otto Pérez Molina was declared the victor in Guatemala, while Nicaragua is still tabulating its votes. Pérez Molina, of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party–PP) defeated Manuel Baldizón of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom–LIDER) party in Guatemala’s runoff election. Neither candidate had secured a majority vote in the September 11 primary.
Guatemala’s election authority, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral, notes that the PP got 53.8 percent of the vote and LIDER 46.2 percent. Pérez Molina, a former army general, has pledged to tackle Guatemala’s widespread crime and insecurity with a mano dura (firm hand), partly through hiring and training roughly 10,000 additional police officers and 2500 more soldiers.
This year’s election was historic for Guatemala because a woman—Roxana Baldetti—will assume the vice-presidency for the first time. Baldetti, a sitting congresswoman, has been a driving force in the PP calling for transparency in Guatemalan politics. She and Pérez Molina have campaigned on the promise to continue the inclusive, pro-poor programs of Sandra Torres, Guatemala’s first lady, which are highly popular.
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Front of National Liberation—FSLN) are leading in the vote count. Nicaraguan daily La Prensa is reporting that, with 38.8 percent of ballots counted, the FSLN is winning with 63.95 percent, compared to 29.09 percent for its nearest rival, Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (Liberal Independent Party–PLI). Ortega, who served as president from 1985-1990 and again from 2007 through the present, is widely expected to prevail and assume a third term. Yesterday Ortega’s wife and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, proclaimed, “This is the victory of Christianity, socialism and solidarity.”
On the day that the United States reflected over the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Guatemala went to the polls to elect its next president. The contest pitted three leading candidates against each other: Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, of Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party, or PP); Manuel Baldizón, business tycoon, of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom, or LIDER); and academic Eduardo Suger, of Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Commitment, Renewal and Order, or CREO).
Pérez Molina had a comfortable lead in the polls in the lead-up to the election; if he had earned more than half the vote he would have made history by being the first national candidate since the 1980s to avoid a runoff vote. But, having secured only 35 percent of votes from more than 7 million tallies, he won the first round but not by enough to avoid a second round. Meeting him in the runoff, scheduled for November 6, is Baldizón, who received 23 percent of votes. Suger finished a distant third with 16 percent.
"Several sectors of the dominant [Guatemalan] forces expected Otto Pérez Molina to win in the first round to save costs,” said Álvaro Velásquez, 42, professor of social sciences and political analyst at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Guatemala City. “Now the people have spoken to contradict this. That's good news for the power of the vote.”
But Pérez Molina can still make history in November; given his extensive military background and Guatemala’s history under decades of military rule, he can be the first ex-soldier to be democratically elected in Guatemala. Baldizón, a successful businessman with alleged ties to narcotraffickers, hails from the northern region of Péten—a department that borders Mexico.
Preliminary results following yesterday’s presidential election in Guatemala indicate that no single candidate won over 50 percent of the vote, meaning that a runoff election will be held on November 6. With 92 percent of ballots counted by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, Guatemala’s election supervision body, Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, obtained 36.16 percent of the vote despite polling as high as 49 percent shortly before the election. Pérez Molina will face the second-place candidate, Manuel Baldizón, an attorney, businessman and congressman, who collected 23.40 percent.
The central issue for both campaigns is how to effectively combat Guatemala’s rampant crime and insecurity. Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere, according to the World Bank: 45 murders per 100,000 citizens. Guatemala, as with its Northern Triangle counterparts Honduras and El Salvador, is a key transit route in drug trafficking between South America and the United States. The amount of illegal drugs seized in Guatemala doubled between 2008 and 2009.
Pérez Molina has pledged to fight crime with a mano dura, or iron fist. He proposes beefing up Guatemala’s security force—hiring 10,000 police officers and 2500 soldiers. Baldizón supports the death penalty and has suggested creating a national guard. Both candidates have also pledged to continue anti-poverty programs in the interest of promoting social inclusion across Guatemala.
Pérez Molina is the leader of the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party—PP), while Baldizón is the founder of the more moderate Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom—LIDER) party. Regardless of the runoff election result, November’s election will usher in Guatemala’s first-ever female vice president. Pérez Molina’s running mate is Roxana Baldetti, a congresswoman, while former First Lady Raquel Blandón is on Baldizón’s ticket.