Guatemalans go to the polls

  • 07/09/2015

By Katell Abiven

Guatemalans have streamed to the polls in general elections held amid public disenchantment with government just days after the country's president was jailed on corruption charges.

Polling stations opened on Sunday morning (local time) across the impoverished Central American nation, with 7.5 million voters eligible to cast ballots for president, vice president, a new Congress, 388 mayors and members of a regional parliament.

Calm prevailed as voting began although anti-corruption protests were expected in Guatemala City as residents head to the polls.

Clashes on Saturday between supporters from different parties left one person dead and resulted in 26 arrests in the southern town of Santa Barbara, marring an otherwise violence-free run-up to the elections.

Some 35,000 police officers were deployed to keep order during the election, which comes just days after president Otto Perez was forced to resign to face corruption charges after months of protests.

Leading the presidential race in pre-election polls is comedian Jimmy Morales, a political novice who rose to fame playing a simpleton who accidentally ends up becoming president.

A poll released on Thursday put Morales slightly ahead with 25 percent of the vote, while long-time frontrunner and right-wing lawyer Manuel Baldizon trailed at 22.9 percent.

Voters will also choose a new vice president, a 158-seat Congress, 338

mayors and 20 delegates to a Central American regional parliament.

The election caps a tumultuous week that reinforced many voters' belief that the polls are meaningless without a massive clean-up of the political system.

On Tuesday, Congress lifted immunity from prosecution for Perez, who stands accused of overseeing a massive corruption customs scheme. By Wednesday he had stepped down from office and was arrested the following day on a court order.

As a criminal suspect, he cannot vote.

Perez, in power since 2012, was already constitutionally unable to seek another term as president but had long defied mounting calls to resign.