Voters in Guatemala head to the polls Sunday to elect a new president

World Today

A second and final round of elections in Central America’s most populous nation.

On Sunday, Guatemala elects a new president.

CGTN’s Franc Contreras has more on the two candidates vying for the top job.

Sixty-three-year-old Sandra Torres is making her third run for the top office. The former first lady who married and divorced former President Alvaro Colom closed her campaign in a working-class neighborhood in Guatemala City. She promises health and education reforms and has switched her position from supporting abortion and same-sex marriage rights to opposing them.

Guatemalan Presidential candidate Sandra Torres told supporters, “Look at us. We are a people with principles and values which we protect. For that reason, we are completely against same-sex marriages among men and women. We are against abortion. We are against immoralities that flood our society.”

The other contender is Alejandro Giammattei, also 63. In 2006, he was the director of Guatemala’s penitentiary system and is making his fourth run for the presidency. He positions himself even further to the right of Torres.

“We’re going for a government that is capable, honest and transparent. One that will eliminate the terrible and disgusting problem of corruption,” Giammattei said.

Corruption is one of the top issues on voters’ minds in Guatemala. Both of the leading candidates have faced criminal charges. Giammattei faced charges of ordering extra-judicial murders of prisoners when he ran the country’s jails. A judge acquitted him, but the public was left with the perception that the judge was paid off.

Sandra Torres faced charges of receiving illegal campaign financing. But in Guatemala, presidential candidates are immune from prosecution. Wide-spread accusations of wrong-doing have disheartened the electorate here many who are facing poverty and unemployment. For Guatemalan voters, this election is about repairing institutions of government, which many see as deeply corrupted and at the service of just a few among the elite.

A large number of voters in rural Guatemala are also expressing doubts that this election will bring much-needed changes – including better pay and more opportunities for the poor. According to the United Nations, a staggering 83 percent of Guatemalans live in extreme poverty.

Forty percent of the population is indigenous. Many of them are Mayan people, who placed their hopes in an indigenous candidate, Thelma Cabrera. She reached fourth-place but was eliminated in a crowded first-round of voting.

So, a tone of skepticism hangs over this troubled Central American nation, where a lack of opportunities has led tens of thousands to emigrate, an issue that neither one of the candidates has addressed.