Crime fears colour Guatemala’s presidential vote

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.

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