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An election with no jitters in Guatemala
September 15, 2007
By Carlos Sabino
With very few incidents -limited in their reach and with scarce actual relevance-, Guatemala had its general election and the first round of a presidential ballot that did not result in a clear winner. In general, the electorate did not stray far from what the polls predicted, although there are some noteworthy exceptions which allow us to better know the citizenry's attitudes. Álvaro Colom, the UNEUNE1 candidate, got the largest number of votes - barely going past 28% of the total. He was followed in order of preference by retired general Otto Pérez Molina of the Partido Patriota, with slightly less than 24%. The second round will be decided between these two candidates next November 4th, in what is considered to be a disputed contest that, due to the way voting leaned, for now seems to favor the latter. Colom is a man with little charisma, from the center-left, who has wide support in rural areas and in the most remote departments of the Republic. While emphasizing the word "hope" in his campaign, he tried to focus his message on fighting poverty - although, it is worth saying, without advancing any proposal that was too specific or novel. Pérez Molina, on the other hand, focused on two ideas: security and employment. His slogan, "a strong arm", attempted to project the image of firmness that a great many Guatemalans are demanding in the face of growing crime rates and the so-called "maras", the youth-based crime gangs that have practically taken over certain areas of the country. Pérez is in no way a right-winger, but a skilled politician who is trying to refloat his past as a military officer in an attempt at gaining the trust of an electorate overwhelmed by the insecurity in which they live, with particular intensity amongst the poor. However, he is also one of the signers of the 1996 Peace Accords, and a man who has tried to give his program an intense social content. In the third place, with a respectable 17%, comes Alejandro Giamettei, from the officialist alliance GANA2. His campaign's launch was delayed, and it suffered from the troubles of the governing coalition, which is why it was not expected to attract many voters. However, Giamettei performed quite well at the election, capturing some of Pérez's votes and demonstrating that an important fraction of Guatemalans appreciate and value continuity. Many of us think those votes may return to Pérez for the second round. The same will happen with the votes harvested by Eduardo Suger, a center-right academic who campaigned on very low resources but surpassed 7% of the overall vote, making for an excellent election result. With regard to the FRG3, the party of General Ríos Montt -already quite decayed and with another 7% of the vote-, nobody knows towards which candidate it will lean. Rigoberta Menchú, the winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, confirmed what many in Guatemala had been saying for months: she has more prestige outside than inside her own country, and she is not at all the candidate that represents the majority of indigenous ethnicities - nor the herder of the female electorate. With 3% of the total vote, her participation can be considered a rotund failure, lessened only by the fine performance of Nineth Montenegro, an active and well-known representative who headed her party's elective lists for Congress. One final comment, a requisite in these times Latin America is living: Chávez did not find a candidate capable of representing him in Guatemala and, although it seems he funded several of those aligned with the left, he failed to establish a beachhead in the country. There is a lot of resistance here to his outrageous interventions and, as was demonstrated yesterday, Guatemalans are far from seeking a radical and authoritarian populism like the one the aggressive Venezuelan colonel is trying to spread.