Guatemala election headed for runoff, former first lady leads

Guatemala’s presidential election appeared to be headed for a runoff as partial results on Monday gave center-left candidate Sandra Torres an early lead but far short of the majority needed to avoid a second round against a conservative rival.

With votes tallied from 42 percent of polling stations, preliminary results from Sunday’s election gave former first lady Torres 24.18 percent of the vote, followed by conservative Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei with 15 percent, the electoral tribunal said.

The presidential race, which groups 19 candidates, appeared all but certain to be headed for a second round of voting on Aug. 11. The head of the electoral tribunal said late on Sunday it could take approximately two weeks to have definitive results from across the Central American country Reuters said.

Guatemala’s next president will face the daunting challenge of curbing drug gang violence that has ravaged the country and helped spur illegal immigration to the United States, stoking tensions with President Donald Trump.

Torres, of the center-left UNE party, has led the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a conservative former television host whose term has been blighted by accusations of corruption made by UN-backed investigators.

Nevertheless, Torres also has high negative ratings and may struggle to win a direct run-off if supporters of the many right-of-center candidates unite against her.

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In third place with 12.11 percent was Edmond Mulet, a former UN official whose conservative candidacy gained traction in recent weeks.

Torres, who wants to send troops into the streets to fight drug gangs, and use welfare programs to tackle poverty, extended a hand to Guatemala’s business elite when voting on Sunday.

“We have to sort out our problems here, and part of the reason for the migration is the lack of jobs, the gap in wages between the United States and here,” she said. “We need to work with the business community to revive the economy.”

Rampant violence and widespread discontent over corruption and impunity in the country of 17 million have prompted more and more Guatemalans to flee for the United States.

The surge of departures has undermined Trump’s pledge to curb illegal immigration, and the US president has responded by threatening to cut US aid to Central America.

That prospect has caused alarm in Guatemala, where the legacy of the bloody 1960-1996 civil war still casts a long shadow over the country’s development.

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