GUATEMALA CITY – A retired general promising to fight rampant crime had an early lead in national elections, as Guatemalans appeared poised to choose a former military man for the presidency for the first time since democracy was restored in 1986.
Otto Perez Molina of the Patriot Party, known for his symbol of an “iron first,” had 37 percent support, followed by businessmen Manuel Baldizon with 24 percent and Eduardo Suger with 15 percent, according to preliminary results released just before midnight Sunday. Seven other candidates shared the remaining votes.
But with less than 3 percent of the voting stations counted, election magistrate Ulises Gomez said it was too early to confirm a tendency.
In pre-election polls, Perez had the support of as many as 48 percent of voters, Baldizon 18 percent and Suger 10 percent.
Perez needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a November runoff.
“Let’s not exclude the possibility that we could win in the first round,” Perez said after casting his vote in a local school Sunday. “It will be the will of God and the Guatemalan people, but let’s not rule it out.”
Perez would be the first former military leader elected president in Guatemala after the end of the military dictatorships of the 1970s and ’80s.
A U.N.-sponsored truth commission found that 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, 93 percent of them by state forces and paramilitary groups. Nonetheless, many credit Perez as having played a key role in the march toward democracy, including negotiating the 1996 peace accords that ended the conflict.