GUATEMALA CITY, (Reuters) – Guatemalans anxious for relief from out-of-control crime voted for a new president yesterday with the leading candidates promising to crack down on gangs and drug cartels terrorizing the country.
A 60-year-old retired general who heads the right-wing Patriot Party, Otto Perez, is leading in opinion polls after the ruling center-leftist party failed to field a candidate. But Perez may fall short of the 50 percent of votes plus one needed to avoid a November run-off.
Electoral officials are hoping for a high turnout given a record 7.3 million registered voters, but long lines that snaked around voting centers in the capital in the morning petered out in the afternoon.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time and the first official results are expected around 10 p.m. local time (0400 GMT).
No presidential hopeful in the coffee- and sugar-exporting nation has won in the first round since Guatemala returned to democracy in 1986 after decades of military rule, but Perez says he has a chance to make history.
“We see a significant possibility of winning in the first round but it depends on the will of the Guatemalan people,” Perez said as he cast his vote at a school in the capital, mobbed by television cameras and supporters.
Perez’s main rival is Manuel Baldizon, a well-off hotel owner and former congressman who sports slicked-back hair and square glasses, and promises handouts to the elderly and poor.