AS/COA Online | Guatemala Update: Presidential Elections amid Political Turmoil

Guatemalans head to the polls to pick a new president on September 6, but someone else will already have taken the helm by then. Months of scandal and demonstrations culminated in President Otto Pérez Molina’s signing a resignation letter on September 2, a day after Guatemala’s Congress stripped him of immunity.

Protests calling for Pérez Molina to step down date back months, to when Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned for her role in the customs fraud scandal known as La Línea. The president’s approval rating sank to a dismal 12 percent but he managed to stay just out of the scandal’s reach.

That all changed starting August 21, when new revelations tying Pérez Molina to La Línea emerged and the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and attorney general took steps toward the president’s impeachment.

One by one the dominoes fell, as did the president.

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AS/COA Online | Pérez Molina Takes the Helm in Guatemala

For the first time since Guatemala’s return to democracy, an ex-general took the presidential helm on January 14. “Change has arrived,” said new President Otto Pérez Molina during his inauguration. He also acknowledged that he enters office at a time when the country faces “many problems and enormous challenges.” Pérez Molina of the Patriotic Party won a November runoff election with the promise of a mano dura—or iron fist—to fight criminality and rein in the country’s high murder rate. His inaugural speech urged Mexico, Central America, Colombia, and particularly the United States to step up cooperation in the fight against organized crime. Guatemala’s high poverty rate and economic concerns will be crucial issues for the administration as well. But, with over two-thirds of Guatemalans viewing violence as the country’s top problem, combating crime will be at the top of Pérez Molina’s agenda. How will he balance these challenges with his military past?

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AS/COA Online - Guatemala Readies for Vote after Troubled Campaign Cycle

He may not win in the first round, but Otto Pérez Molina polls well ahead of other contenders in the race for Guatemala’s presidency. As the Central American country prepares for a September 11 presidential and legislative vote, a poll published September 7 by Borge and Associates and Guatemalan daily El Periódico gives the Patriotic Party (PP) candidate 48.9 percent of voter intention—a 30 percent advantage over his top rival, Manuel Baldizón of the Renewed Democratic Freedom (Líder) party. The poll puts Pérez Molina short of the requisite 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a November 6 runoff. No candidate has won during the first-round vote since Guatemala implemented a two-round system in 1985, though nearly all Guatemala’s first-round winners have gone on to win runoffs. Still, observers see Pérez Molina’s expansive poll lead as stemming, in part, from the lack of a governing-party candidate and they lament that the electoral process has been marred by campaign-finance irregularities, as well as violence.

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