Ex-General Leads in Guatemalan Presidential Vote

Posted September 12th, 2011 at 9:05 am (UTC-5)
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A retired army general promising a crackdown on Guatemala's rampant crime looks set to win a first round of the country's presidential vote.

Election officials Monday said Otto Perez has more than one-third of the votes with about 76 percent of the ballots counted. But that will not be enough to give the retired general a victory.

Perez needed more than 50 percent support to avoid a runoff in November. He likely will face conservative businessman Manuel Baldizon in a second round. Election officials said Baldizon has won about one-quarter of the votes.

Pre-election opinion polls in Guatemala favored the 60-year-old Perez of the Patriotic Party as the leading candidate in Sunday's vote.

Perez would be the first former military leader elected in the Central American nation since the end of its military dictatorships. He has promised a “firm hand” against Guatemala's growing gang problem, spilling over from neighboring Mexico.

The campaigns have focused on who will do the best job in controlling Guatemala's widespread crime, primarily linked to drug trafficking.

The winner will take over in January, replacing President Alvaro Colom, who is barred by law from running for re-election.