Who will win the run-off election?
by Diana Pastor
After the elections last month on September 6, much to everyone’s surprise, the candidate who was supposedly leading in the opinion polls and who considered himself, along with many others, as the virtual winner, was knocked out of the race for President of Guatemala. Instead of Manuel Baldizón, Guatemalans elected Sandra Torres, the former wife of an ex-president whom she divorced last election season in 2011 so that she could participate in the political contest, and Jimmy Morales, a comedian with no previous experience in politics who became popular across the country for belonging to a “relatively new” party and being supported by some important sectors in the country (which I will explain in a moment). Want to know more about these candidates? Then read on!
Sandra Torres was in charge of the National Council for Social Cohesion during the administration of her husband, Alvaro Colom, from 2008 to 2011. The council was primarily responsible for promoting social investment, spending millions on clientelistic social programs and policies that distributed handouts in return for political patronage across the country. However it was not only within the Council for Social Cohesion that Sandra Torres exerted a strong voice during these years; she also wielded a huge influence on most of the presidential decisions in general. She became very popular in various communities for her “bolsa solidaria” (solidarity bag), which was basically a package containing various food items that were distributed to low-income families. She has also been a businesswoman in the field of textiles, maquila factories and related industries. Her political campaign has been directed to the poor, women and indigenous sectors of the country – sectors which, she claims, benefited greatly during her tenure at the Council for Social Cohesion.
On the other side of the coin, we have Jimmy Morales, who ran with the brilliant election slogan “neither corrupt nor thief” and is trying to convince Guatemalans that his government would be totally different from the previous ones. Whilst Morales has not been involved in politics before, and therefore has a clean record (so far), it is clear that military groups have been strongly supporting his candidacy since it was originally launched. With the support from these groups and their dubious histories it is hard to see how Jimmy can claim his party has a clean record or would somehow be a break from the norm if elected. These military, ultra-right-wing groups are mostly former veterans from the civil war and are, of course, reluctant to accept any responsibility for the crimes committed during this period of internal armed conflict in Guatemala. But Jimmy has won the sympathy of many young people, with whose votes his candidacy was given further impetus towards victory, and he has also gained the vote of many evangelicals across the country, as he openly declares that Christian values and faith in God can rescue the country from its woes.
So, whoever wins this October 25, there´s little hope that Guatemala will change much from the state it is currently in. Although the social movements that have been taking place across the country have awakened the conscience of many Guatemalans, there is still a long way to go before enough people vote consciously to permit a real change to happen in Guatemala´s executive and legislative political system. But that is a topic for another article.