Guatemala Elects New President
Contributed by: Quiñones, Ibargüen, Luján & Mata, S.C.
On Sunday, November 6th, Guatemala held a second round of general presidential elections that resulted in a victory for the opposition party, ("Patriot Party" Partido Patriota – PP), and its presidential candidate, retired General Otto Perez Molina, over a younger, rising and controversial political figure, Attorney and Congressman Manuel Baldizón ("Leadership Party" Lider -PL). The PP is considered as favoring Guatemala's businesses while the PL was formed from dissidents of the current populist party in government of Mr. Alvaro Colom.
The eight weeks after the September 11th first round were filled with accusations of overspending by both parties and a lack of transparency of political contributions. Both parties where fined for insignificant amounts.
A dangerously divided Guatemala revived memories of human rights violations through questioning of Mr. Perez Molina's participation in Guatemala's civil war in the 1980s, and his alliance to questionable figures of Guatemala's past. His campaign revolved around a promise of a crackdown on escalating violence.
Mr. Baldizóón was questioned for his sources of funds, inventive campaign promises, and his rapid rise to the political scene. His campaign focused on continuing social programs and rising employee benefits. According to analysts, Mr. Baldizón did not benefit from his last moment alliances. Among his most commented allies was an improvised political party that holds as its most notorious member an ex-president (Alfonso Portillo) who is subject to a U.S. extradition request over corruption charges.
Mr. Baldizón also made an alliance with Sandra Torres, the former First Lady (divorced from Mr. Colom in an attempt to become a Presidential Candidate) and her party. This last alliance was an effort to benefit from the former First Lady's personal involvement in a controversial governmental program of conditional transfers that created a strong network of supporters in mainly rural areas. The election results favored Mr. Perez by 53.74 percent. Division was marked between a support for Mr. Perez in Guatemala City of close to 78 percent, versus extremely low results in rural areas of 34percent.
This week Guatemala quickly returned to business as usual and, although there is no post-electoral euphoria, there is a quiet feeling of relief from a prolonged and stressful election process. Guatemala's business community may be described as moderately optimistic but concerned over the marked division.
Many progressive business sectors have positively acknowledged the deep need to work on creating a more united society (Guatemala holds one of the lowest Gini coefficients in the world) by focusing on education on economic development in rural areas, if it wants to break away from a recurring pattern of alternating election victories between conservative and populist regimes every