Guatemala Comedian Leads In Election Five Days After President Resigns

While it’s true that some people treat elections as a big joke, Guatemala has taken it to new levels. Five days after President Otto Pérez Molina resigned over widespread protests and accusations of corruption, the leader in the new presidential race is Jimmy Morales, a television comedian well known in Guatemala but one with no political experience. His 24 percent of the total vote beat out former first lady Sandra Torres and 2011 election loser Manuel Baldizón, who both got 19.5 percent of the vote.

Even more strangely, the voters in Guatemala might be doing something that’s really very sensible. Guatemala has had more than its fair share of political strife and corruption, and some have said this is a sign that Guatemalans are fed up with the old political guard. Quique Godoy, a Guatemalan political analyist, said that it was a “rejection of traditional politicians.”

Considering polls taken before the first voting round indicated that Guatemalans would either not vote or cast blank ballots in protest, the fact that 70.38 percent of Guatamalans showed up to vote is something in itself. The turnout is a record in Guatemala. However, to win the election, a candidate needs 50 percent plus one vote, something none of the fourteen candidates managed to do. Further runoff elections are planned.

Even as they voted, many Guatemalans expressed dismay over the current voting system. Some even cast their votes dressed in all black as a sign the political system in place was dead. Since this is the eighth election since 1996 (when Guatemala’s 36-year civil war came to an end), there’s likely some truth to that. Morales even campainged under the slogan “Not Corrupt, Not a Thief” which most would consider the minimum required of elected officials. Baldizon used the less likeable angle of ignoring spending limits, which did not sit as well with the people of Guatemala. Torres had spent most of her time as first lady promoting social programs, and while she has no catchy slogan, she has significant support in Guatemala’s rural countryside.

As for Perez Molina? After resigning, he had his immunity as a leader of state taken away, and was arrested along with his vice president on charges of giving companies tax breaks as a result of bribes so that they would import their goods to Guatemala. Around a dozen other officials have been arrested in the case. The investigation was carried out by the Guatemalan attorney general and a UN commission. Both have denied the charges.

(Photo by Justin Lane-Pool/Getty Images)