Guatemalans vote for new president after divisive campaign

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By Webdesk

Voters also elect a vice president and 160 representatives to the Guatemalan Congress.

Guatemalans have voted in a hotly contested presidential election dominated by concerns about corruption and the cost of living, and the polls will result in a second round in August.

Many Guatemalans expressed disappointment with their presidential choices after three opposition candidates were barred by authorities. A large number of zero votes were expected, and experts said this could depress turnout.

Former first lady Sandra Torres, of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, is tipped to win the first round, but is not expected to get the 50 percent plus one vote needed for an outright win in the contest, which fairness has been scrutinized internationally.

The 67-year-old businesswoman has unsuccessfully applied for the presidency twice before. She is associated with the ruling Vamos (Let’s Go) party of the current legislature.

Torres finished second in the previous two presidential elections, but she and her party have been accused of corruption and illegal campaign financing. She has denied the allegations and campaigned with a pledge to support social programs to tackle poverty across the country.

She is up against more than 20 other candidates, including Edmond Mulet, a career diplomat, and Zury Rios, daughter of the late dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

Cabal party presidential candidate Edmond Mulet addresses the media during the first round of the Guatemalan presidential election in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 25, 2023 [Josue Decavele/Reuters]

Mulet, 72, campaigns with the centrist Cabal (Spot On) party for pledges to strengthen the economy and invest in health care, education and security.

His campaign was plagued by allegations that he was involved in an illegal child adoption operation in the 1980s when thousands of babies and children were taken from their families and put up for adoption abroad. Mulet has adamantly denied having any part in the scheme.

Rios, 55, whose Valor (Valor) party was also part of the previous ruling legislative coalition, was allowed to run in the elections after the Constitutional Court ruled in May that a rule that would have allowed the relatives of those who seized power in a coup prohibited candidacy should not apply to her. She has campaigned with a tough crackdown on crime.

The race to succeed conservative President Alejandro Giammattei, who is limited by law to one term in office, has been overshadowed by a court ruling to bar four candidates from the ballot, including the early frontrunner, businessman Carlos Pineda.

The United States and the European Union criticized Pineda’s exclusion, calling the decision “election fraud”.

About 9.2 million Guatemalans are eligible to vote to elect the country’s next president and vice president, as well as 160 representatives in Congress.

Hundreds of local positions are also up for grabs, as are 20 seats in the Central American Parliament.

The voting centers, which opened at 07:00 (13:00 GMT), are expected to close at 18:00 (00:00 GMT on Monday).

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