Guatemala prepares to elect a new president & congress

Latin America

Guatemala prepares to elect a new president & congress

Guatemala is gearing-up for a general election. Voters head to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president and congress, but the lead-up to the vote has raised questions about its legitimacy.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports from Guatemala City.

At least 19 different candidates are running for the top office in Guatemala. Polls indicate the main contender in Sunday’s vote is 64-year-old business woman and former First Lady, Sandra Torres.

Like many other candidates, her campaign has faced allegations of wrong-doing. Prosecutors stopped their investigation of her National Unity and Hope party, which was accused of accepting illegal campaign financing.

The charges against Torres’ political party were dropped because candidates for public office in Guatemala are protected from prosecution. Torres remains confident that she will win Sunday’s election.

“From the first day of taking office, I will bring order to the country,” Torres vowed. “I will eliminate luxuries. I will combat corruption, no matter what the cost and no matter who is involved. We will do what other politicians have been unable to achieve for you.”

But observers say she will not likely capture more than 50% of the votes, so this race will likely go to a second round election in August.

Corruption is the central issue. Three out of four of Guatemala’s most recent presidents were sentenced to prison for acts of corruption, including Torres’ former husband Alvaro Colom.

The endemic nature of wide-spread political corruption has prevented successive governments of this Central American nation from dealing with the most critical social problems, including widespread poverty and violence.

A recent Gallup poll found that 30% of the adults here believe the outcome of Sunday’s election will be fraudulent.

All of this has lead up to what political observers called wide spread mistrust for the political process here in this Central American nation.

Political analyst Jose Carlos Sanabria says Guatemala’s democratic institutions are at risk.

“Our democracy and our institutions, their credibility and the legitimacy they hold in the eyes of citizens are important and fundamental for human development,” Sanabria said. “The situation here is very complex and critical.

Analysts and pollsters all agree — voters and the larger population are experiencing a wide-spread sense of cynicism, which hangs over the elections here just one day before the polls open.