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Runoff election required in Guatemala

Associated Press / September 13, 2011

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GUATEMALA CITY - Guatemala’s leading presidential candidates are headed for a November runoff as a retired general who had a commanding lead in the polls failed to win 50 percent of the vote.

With 95 percent of the polling stations reporting yesterday, preliminary results show Otto Perez Molina of the Patriot Party with 36 percent support, followed by businessmen Manuel Baldizon with 24 percent and Eduardo Suger with 16 percent.

“We are going to double our efforts, now that we are in the second round,’’ Perez said.

In preelection polls, Perez, who promised to get tough on Guatemala’s rampant crime, had the support of up to 48 percent of voters. Baldizon had 18 percent and Suger 10 percent. All are right-leaning. Any candidate needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid the Nov. 6 runoff.

But Perez garnered far less, as Baldizon’s support increased in the weeks leading up to the election.

People also were embarrassed to say they would vote for Baldizon, according to former Foreign Minister Edgar Gutierrez, who heads a political think tank in Guatemala. Baldizon, a tycoon-turned-political populist, made many promises that some considered outlandish, including that he would take Guatemala’s soccer team to the World Cup. But other promises were appealing in a country with rampant poverty, including a pledge to boost salaries and social programs, to employ the death penalty, now rarely used, and to televise executions.

Gutierrez said that greater support than expected for Suger also cut into Perez’s lead, but that those votes probably will go to Perez in the runoff.

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