Guatemala City, August 12: Guatemalans have voted in Alejandro Giammattei of the Vamos party as the country's next president, hoping he would address the issues of crime and security, as well as the concerns around his human rights record.
The 63-year-old spent several months in prison in 2008, when he was director of the country’s prison system, after some prisoners were killed in a raid on his watch. He was eventually acquitted of wrongdoing.
Until courts prevented some of the more popular candidates from running in this year’s race, he also appeared to be a long-shot candidate in a tumultuous campaign season.
But on Sunday, his get-tough approach to crime and his socially conservative values, including his strident opposition to gay marriage and abortion, finally parlayed favor with Guatemalan voters in a presidential runoff.
Leaning on the crutches he uses because of his multiple sclerosis, Giammattei acknowledged in his emotional victory speech that it had been a long road.
“We won. We are very excited, it is logical, it has been 12 years of struggle,” Giammatttei said. “Twelve years waiting to serve my country.”
With about 98% of polling places reporting, the country’s Supreme Electoral Council said that Giammattei had about 58% of votes, compared to about 42% for former first lady Sandra Torres.
About 8 million Guatemalans are registered to vote in the Central American country. In a nation beset by poverty, unemployment and migration issues, however, turnout as low as 45% appeared to suggest widespread disillusionment with the political status quo in general.
“I just hope Giammattei keeps his promises, and really fights corruption,” said Guatemala City resident Leonel Regalado. “We hope he won’t steal, because that would be too much for him to steal as brazenly as (outgoing President) Jimmy Morales has.”
The presidential campaign was marked by a chaotic succession of judicial decisions, intrigues, illegal party changes and accusations of bad practices that truncated the candidacies of two of the three presidential favorites.