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Morales is elected new president in Guatemala

A political neophyte best known for playing dimwitted characters on his television comedy show won Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday as voters overwhelmingly turned their backs on the status quo.

The former comedian, Jimmy Morales, led with 67.4 percent of the vote against Sandra Torres, a former first lady known for her social programs, with almost 96 percent of the vote counted. But almost half of eligible voters did not cast ballots, an even stronger message of disgust with the country’s politics as usual. The election capped six tumultuous months in which a rising anticorruption citizens’ movement helped bring down a president.

In a short televised announcement, Mr. Morales, 46, declared victory Sunday night. “With this vote you made me president,” he said. “I have received a mandate, and the mandate of the people of Guatemala is to fight against the corruption that has consumed us.”

Running on the slogan “Not corrupt, nor a thief,” Mr. Morales capitalized on his image as a political outsider, setting himself apart from an establishment tainted by corruption.

In the past six months, a United Nations-backed panel of prosecutors working with the attorney general has peeled back layers of corruption, uncovering myriad schemes to siphon cash from the country’s public coffers.

As the list of officials and politicians accused in corruption scandals grew longer and reached higher, crowds began to assemble weekly in Guatemala City’s main square to demand accountability.

After prosecutors named President Otto Pérez Molina as the leader of a plot to lower import duties in exchange for bribes, protesters demanding “justice now” forced him to step down on Sept. 2, as his last political allies abandoned him. A retired army general, Mr. Pérez Molina has been confined to a military barracks while pretrial proceedings continue.

The scandals catapulted Mr. Morales into the lead in the first round of presidential balloting on Sept. 6. Aside from his television career, voters knew little about him. The broad humor of his long-running show revolved around recurring characters, including one in blackface and a Japanese prisoner of war.

He ran a campaign that was thin on specifics, backed by a political party founded by rightist military officers associated with Guatemala’s long, brutal civil war. As Mr. Morales climbed in the polls, promising change, many in the business elite threw their support behind him, including the powerful confederation known as Cacif and the owner of Guatemala’s broadcast television monopoly.

“I have no magic wands,” Mr. Morales said last week at the campaign’s end. “I have nothing but a big heart swollen with love for this country.”

Despite his lopsided win, voters seemed less than enthusiastic about him. “I voted for Jimmy because he’s the least worst option,” Verónica Cruz, 22, a homemaker, said after casting her ballot in San Lucas Sacatepéquez, a suburb of Guatemala City.

“I don’t think much will change,” she added. “Hopefully, there will be more money for education. We’re safe here in San Lucas, but my husband works in Guatemala City, and it’s very violent there.”

Crime and corruption are only the most visible problems besieging the economy in Guatemala. Income inequality is among the most extreme in Latin America, and almost half of the children are chronically malnourished.

Mr. Morales will have to build coalitions among a deeply fractured Congress to pass any legislation. Watching his every move will be the movement that brought down Mr. Pérez Molina.

As the results confirmed Mr. Morales’s win, Gabriel Wer, one of the initial organizers of the anticorruption protests, sent a Twitter message: “We have a new president and we are here so that it will be transparent government. We won’t be quiet this time!”

“If we’re honest, the next president cannot change our Guatemala alone,” said Héctor Rodríguez, an accountant. “We need to change the system before we can worry about individuals.”

Many people, like Alfonso Girón Coc, 36, an agricultural worker who did not vote, were resigned. “I think Jimmy will win,” he said earlier in the day. “But what difference will he make?”

Source: The New York Time

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