GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — A former general promising law and order had a wide lead over a tycoon-turned-political populist in Guatemala's presidential election, according to preliminary results Sunday.
Otto Perez Molina, 61, a retired general from the right-wing Patriotic Party, had 55 percent of the vote compared to 44 percent for Manuel Baldizon, 41, of the Democratic Freedom Revival party, with more than 87 percent of the votes counted, according to the country's electoral tribunal
Polls showed Perez ahead by that margin going into election day. While many predicted the race would be much closer, analysts also said a small turnout would favor Perez.
Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time (12 a.m. GMT). Turnout was about 45 percent of registered voters, according to the tribunal.
"The low participation is one of the indicators that worries us because it shows that the people don't support or feel represented by the political options," said Manfredo Marroquin of the non-governmental organization, Mirador Electoral, or Electoral Observer.
The two traded barbs on Sunday, with Perez accusing Baldizon in a news conference Sunday of offering gifts, including zinc sheeting, in exchange for votes, Baldizon urged voters not to elect someone with "blood on his hands" for Perez's involvement the military during the country's 36-year civil war.
Current President Alvaro Colom, who can't run for re-election, urged both sides to respect the results from the electoral tribunal "to avoid violence and illegal acts."
Colom said 106 people had been detained nationwide on suspicion of violating of various election laws.
Baldizon barely registered in the polls when campaigning began six months ago and has risen dramatically since. The businessman has made many promises that some considered outlandish, including that he would take Guatemala's soccer team to the World Cup. But other promises are appealing in a country with rampant poverty and crime, including giving workers an extra month's salary a year, reinstating the death penalty and televising executions.
More than half of Guatemalans live in poverty in a nation 14 million overrun by organized crime and Mexican drug cartels. President Alvaro Colom has had to send troops to retake some provinces from the Zetas drug gang, including Baldizon's home state of Peten bordering Mexico.
Guatemala has one of the highest murder rates in the world, a product of gang and cartel violence, along with the legacy of its 1960-1996 civil war in which the army, police and paramilitary are blamed for killed the vast majority of 200,000 victims — most of whom were Mayan.
Perez would be the first former military leader elected president in Guatemala 25 years after the end of brutal military rule. While that concerns some international groups, Guatemala has a young population and many don't remember the war.
Witnesses say hundreds of villages were obliterated by the army's scorched-earth policy. Perez has said there were no massacres or genocide.
He has never been charged with any atrocities and was one of the army's chief representatives in negotiating the 1996 peace accords.
Perez's campaigning focused on fighting the street gangs and cartels. Both candidates lean to the right after the center-left party of Colom failed to field a candidate. Colom cannot run for re-election.
Perez narrowly lost four years ago to Colom, a leftist who promised to fight crime with social programs, but whom many considered weak.
The wild card has been the sudden popularity of Baldizon, who the traditional ruling class in Guatemala has painted as inept.