Colom beats ex-general, wins Guatemalan presidency

The Baltimore Sun

GUATEMALA CITY -- Alvaro Colom, a center-left businessman, won Guatemala's presidential election yesterday, in a vote that in many ways was a referendum on the country's fragile democracy.

Colom, 56, defeated former army general Otto Perez Molina, a high-ranking officer during Guatemala's years of bloody dictatorship and counter-insurgency warfare in the 1980s.

With 93 percent of the vote tallied, Colom led Perez Molina by 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent. Nearly all of the uncounted votes were in Colom strongholds.

Across Guatemala, turnout was light for yesterday's runoff, after a nasty campaign that centered on the crime and corruption that have made a mockery of Guatemala's democratic institutions under civilian rule.

Perez Molina, also 56, promised to crack down on crime with a "firm hand," (mano dura in Spanish), a phrase commonly associated in Latin America with authoritarian government. Campaign posters showed him with a raised fist and stern expression.

Victor Galvez, a political analyst here, said the result showed that Guatemalans rejected Perez Molina's rightist solutions to their country's problems. "It's a message that people don't want to return to the military past," he said. "In the end, the firm hand turned against Perez Molina."

Colom, a former industrial engineer with a long government resume, sought to make poverty the focal point of his campaign.

"I voted against injustice," said Max Perez, 34, a painter in the colonial city of Antigua. "I voted for these people who live in misery, for the people who are hungry. I voted for the engineer Alvaro Colom."

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