July 23, 2019
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Guatemala closes polls, marred by incidents of violence

Guatemala City, Jun 16 (efe-epa).- Violence marred Guatemala's general elections on Sunday, in which more than eight million people were eligible to vote for a new president.

The polling stations in the country closed at 6pm after 11 hours of voting, and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal began counting the votes. It is likely to be a long process owing to the long list of parties contesting in the elections.

On Sunday, more than 8.1 million people were eligible to vote for the president, vice-president, 120 congressional lawmakers, 20 representative for the Central American parliament and representatives of 340 municipalities.

Participation is not expected to be high but abstention is "a way that the citizens have of protesting against the system,” Supreme Electoral Tribunal President Julio Solorzano said.

There were incidents in several municipalities such as San Jorge in the department of Zacapa, where authorities were forced to suspend polling due to the resignation of the electoral board after allegedly receiving death threats.

There was also a clash between villagers in Esquipulas Palo Gordo, San Marcos department, and the National Civil Police when residents closed a center, saying that some people had been hauled in buses and trucks to vote.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal president said that elections will have to be repeated in these areas and urged the public not to enter into conflict as the votes no longer count. It announced that the situation in another municipality, Las Cruces, where violence was also recorded, will be assessed.

The day for repeating the elections has not been confirmed, although if none of the presidential candidates secures an absolute majority, there will likely be a runoff on Aug. 11.

Former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, who is heading an electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States, expressed concern about the violence and asked political parties to take responsibility.

"They have a great responsibility and obligation to work together to ensure that the end of this process is appropriate, because it would be a shame to lament that this effort that people are making ... is being ruined by people who want to create disturbances," he reiterated during a visit to a polling station in Mixco, one of those he oversaw.

Solis said that they received several complaints during the day about various incidents such as "vote buying, intimidation or violence,” complaints that were also shared with the Attorney General's Office on transporting of voters, giving food in exchange for votes, violations of secret ballots and marked ballots.

Immigrants living in the United States also took part in the elections, although the coalition of Guatemalans based in the US (Conguate) expressed concern about the "low voter turnout."

Amidst the voting, many street vendors such as Yanira Rodriguez positioned themselves near some of the 2,932 polling stations across Guatemala.

"I sell at the terminal or in the El Guarda (market). Today, the sales were better than in those places because many people came to vote," the woman told EFE while selling fritters and tortillas next to a polling booth in Zone 5 of the capital.

Up to 19 candidates are vying for the post of president, five of whom are leading the polls, including former first lady Sandra Torres of the socio-democratic National Unity of Hope party, who is favorite to win but without a sufficient majority to prevent a runoff.

The next four, whose positions vary according to different surveys, are the former director of the Guatemalan Penitentiary System, Alejandro Giammattei of the center-right Vamos party; the son of former president Alvaro Arzu, Roberto Arzu of the ultra-conservative PAN-Podemos coalition; Edmond Mulet of the centrist Humanist Party; and indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera of the leftist Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples.

The main issues of the elections are many of Guatemala's ongoing challenges including irregular migration, corruption, poverty, violence, low wages and famine — problems of one of the most unequal countries in the world.

pp/pd/tw

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