GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemalans will vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as tens of thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.
With 19 candidates in the race for president, and the winner needing an absolute majority, a runoff between the two top vote-getters is likely in August.
The road to this presidential election has been a chaotic flurry of court rulings and shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that torpedoed the candidacies of two of the top three candidates.
Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested post-presidency on charges of corruption. Graft allegations have also targeted current President Jimmy Morales and his inner circle, though he denies wrongdoing and has been protected from prosecution due to his immunity while in office.
A recent poll from CID Gallup Latinoamerica found that nearly a third of Guatemalan adults surveyed believe the election will be plagued by fraud. Another 20 percent said the election’s legitimacy would be suspect because so many candidates were kept from running.
The election marks the first time that Guatemalans can cast ballots from abroad: At least 60,000 are eligible to vote in Los Angeles, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C., all home to large numbers of Guatemalan emigres.
Unemployment, violence, corruption, rising costs of living and the shoddy state of the country’s highways are among top concerns for the country’s electorate. Surging migration has not emerged as a major campaign issue, even as an estimated 1 percent of Guatemala’s population of some 16 million people has left the country this year.
The top five candidates are: former first lady Sandra Torres of the National Unity and Hope party, who is expected to finish first but without enough votes to win in the first round; former prison director and four-time presidential candidate Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei Falla; businessman Roberto Arzú, lawyer and journalist Edmond Auguste Mulet Lesieur; and Thelma Cabrera, the only indigenous candidate.
Elections will also be held Sunday for vice president, Congress and for mayors.