GUATEMALA CITY - A former military general known for his “iron fist’’ campaign to stop Guatemala’s epidemic crime rates led the field of 10 candidates heading into yesterday’s presidential election.
Voters disappointed in outgoing President Alvaro Colom’s failure to reduce crime have indicated in polls that Otto Perez Molina may be the best person to lead the nation, which has one of the highest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere.
“I’m voting because it’s my duty, because I’m Guatemalan, but also so we can get under control all of the violence, corruption, impunity, and lack of employment in my country,’’ said 68-year-old veterinarian Luis Eduardo Rodriguez Contenti, a Guatemala City resident.
Rodriguez works in Guatemala’s violent northern region of Peten, where 27 people were decapitated in an assault in March that authorities attribute to the Zetas drug gang, a Mexico-based organization.
The president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Maria Eugenia Villagran, estimated the turnout to be higher than 50 percent. Results are expected tomorrow.
In the most recent polls, Perez had the support of as many as 48 percent of voters, followed by businessmen Manuel Baldizon with 18 and Eduardo Suger with 10 percent. All are right-leaning. Perez needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a November runoff.
There were sporadic reports of violence related to the vote, but nothing like in 2007 when Perez narrowly lost to Colom. That campaign was marred by a wave of violence that left more than 50 candidates, party activists, and their family members dead. A police spokesman said yesterday that unknown assailants opened fire on the headquarters of Perez’s Patriot Party in San Miguel Chaparron. A security guard at the headquarters died, as did the bodyguard of the mayoral candidate for the National Unity for Hope.