Early results: Businesswoman ahead in Guatemalan election

  • Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, shows her ink stained finger to the press after casting her vote during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. The former first lady is expected to finish first but without enough votes to win in the first round.

    Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, shows her ink stained finger to the press after casting her vote during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. The former first lady is expected to finish first but without enough votes to win in the first round. Associated Press

  • Indigenous women arrive at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Indigenous women arrive at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • An electoral official keeps empty ballots organized during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    An electoral official keeps empty ballots organized during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • People line up to vote at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    People line up to vote at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • A indigenous woman casts her votes at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    A indigenous woman casts her votes at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • A man waits to casts his votes at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    A man waits to casts his votes at a polling station in Sumpango, Guatemala, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • People walk past a Presidential House as soldiers stands guard, one day before the general elections, in the historic district of Guatemala City, Saturday, June 15, 2019. The road to Sunday's presidential election in Guatemala has been a chaotic flurry of court rulings and shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that torpedoed the candidacies of two of the top three candidates.

    People walk past a Presidential House as soldiers stands guard, one day before the general elections, in the historic district of Guatemala City, Saturday, June 15, 2019. The road to Sunday's presidential election in Guatemala has been a chaotic flurry of court rulings and shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that torpedoed the candidacies of two of the top three candidates. Associated Press

  • Electoral workers wait for people to cast their votes during general elections in Chinautla on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Electoral workers wait for people to cast their votes during general elections in Chinautla on the outskirts of Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos party, casts his vote during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos party, casts his vote during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans vote for their next president Sunday in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • Roberto Arzu, presidential candidate of the PAN and Podemos party coalition, poses for photographers at a polling station during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. (AP Photo/Santiago Bill

    Roberto Arzu, presidential candidate of the PAN and Podemos party coalition, poses for photographers at a polling station during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. (AP Photo/Santiago Bill Associated Press

  • Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

  • Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

    Election officials start counting votes after polls closed during general elections in Guatemala City, Sunday, June 16, 2019. Guatemalans are voting for their next president in elections plagued by widespread disillusion and distrust, and as thousands of their compatriots flee poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States. Associated Press

 
 
Posted6/17/2019 7:00 AM

GUATEMALA CITY -- Early results in Guatemala's presidential election point to a businesswoman in the lead in a nation where tens of thousands have fled poverty and gang violence to seek a new life in the United States.

Three hours after polls closed, but with votes tallied from just 13% of polling centers, former first lady Sandra Torres had captured more than 22% of the vote, followed by four-time presidential candidate Alejandro Giammattei with 16%. There were 19 candidates and early results were in line with expectations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At this rate no candidate will win the more than 50% of votes needed to assume the post after a first round, with a second vote likely to take place in August. Presidents are limited to a single, four-year term.

The next president of this Central American country will be tasked starting in January with attempting to stem growing violence, poverty and outward migration. An estimated 1 percent of Guatemala's population of some 16 million people has left the country this year.

Guatemalans are also clamoring for a crackdown on corruption: Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested post-presidency on charges of corruption.

"There is a belief that instead of advancing in these four years of government, we've gone backward," said Marco René Cuellar, 39, the first to vote at the Mixed Rural School in the municipality of Santa Catarina Pinula. "We've lost our way as a country, but we should not lose faith in the democratic process we have."

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Voters chose between 19 candidates, with more than 8.1 million citizens also eligible to vote for the vice president, congressional representatives and mayors.

The election marked the first time that Guatemalans could cast ballots from abroad: At least 60,000 were eligible to vote in Los Angeles, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C., all home to large numbers of Guatemalan emigres.

Businessman Roberto Arzú, diplomat Edmond Auguste Mulet Lesieur and indigenous human rights advocate Thelma Cabrera rounded out the top-five candidates for the presidency.

On Sunday, municipal officials and police stood guard as many waited in line to cast their ballot in an election dinged by threats of violence and possible fraud.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To the east of the capital, in the Zacapa department, voting stations didn't open in the San Jorge municipality after organizers were threatened with violence. More than 7,000 people were unable to cast votes there. Voting was also called off in Esquipulas Palo Gordo, near the border with Mexico in the San Marcos department, amid accusations of vote-buying.

The attorney general's office launched an investigation after a voter posted a video to social media showing how her ballot was allegedly already marked for Torres.

The campaign season was marked by a chaotic flurry of court rulings, shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that torpedoed the runs of two of the three front-runners, including Chief Prosecutor Thelma Aldana.

Aldana gained international renown for leading crusading anti-corruption investigations in tandem with a U.N.-backed anti-graft commission operating in Guatemala, but was booted from the race on the grounds that she lacked a document certifying that she didn't have any outstanding accounts from her time overseeing a public budget as prosecutor.

Outgoing President Jimmy Morales, who is barred from seeking re-election, took office in 2016 promising to root out corruption after his predecessor was brought down by a probe led by the U.N.'s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. But Morales soon became a target of CICIG himself for alleged campaign finance violations, starting a bitter dispute with the agency in which he terminated its mandate.

A recent poll from CID Gallup Latinoamerica found that nearly a third of Guatemalan adults surveyed believe the election will be plagued by fraud. Another 20 percent said the election's legitimacy would be suspect because so many candidates were kept from running.

Unemployment, violence, corruption, rising costs of living and the shoddy state of the country's highways are among top concerns for the country's electorate.

But Fernando Barrillas, 44-year-old Guatemalan citizen, said surging migration was also an issue for him.

"As long as the root causes that propel migration are not addressed, which are poverty and inequality, we will continue to remain without the best men and women, young people who they are the engine of the country," he said.

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