GUATEMALA CITY: Comedian Jimmy Morales won a landslide victory in Guatemala’s presidential race Sunday despite having no political experience, after a campaign upended by a corruption scandal that felled the outgoing president.
Morales, a comic actor and TV personality, declared victory as election officials released the resounding results: 68 percent of the vote for the conservative candidate to 32 percent for former first lady Sandra Torres, with 97 percent of polling stations reporting.
“With this election you have made me president, I received a mandate and that mandate is to fight the corruption that has consumed us,” said Morales on national TV.
“Thank you for this vote of confidence. My commitment remains to God and the Guatemalan people, and I will work with all my heart and strength not to defraud you.”
Torres conceded defeat in a brief televised address, telling Guatemalans that “the people have made their choice and we respect it. We wish Mr. Morales the best of success.”
It has been a remarkable ride for Morales, who started the race with just 0.5 percent support back in April.
The campaign was rocked by president Otto Perez’s resignation and arrest on corruption charges on September 3, three days before the first-round vote.
Perez, who is in jail awaiting trial, is accused of masterminding a corrupt network of politicians and customs officials that took bribes from businesses in exchange for illegal discounts on import duties.
Prosecutors and United Nations investigators say the network collected $3.8 million in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015 — including $800,000 each to Perez and jailed ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti.
Morales rode a wave of outrage with politics-as-usual in the impoverished Central American country, which is torn by gang violence and still recovering from a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.
He won the first-round vote with 24 percent to 20 percent for Torres, who was running for social democratic party UNE.
Life imitates art
Morales, 46, is famous for playing a country bumpkin cowboy who nearly becomes president in the 2007 film “A President in a Sombrero.”
In real life, the presidential race was his first foray into national politics, though he once ran unsuccessfully for mayor of his hometown.
Morales will be tasked with rebuilding confidence in the government at a time of deep public distrust, shaky institutions and a depleted treasury.
“The new president will face a somber panorama because the state is in a death spiral,” said Manfredo Marroquin, head of the local chapter of Transparency International.
Morales will also have to govern with just 11 seats in the 158-seat Congress.
Voters voiced concern about the political situation as they cast their ballots.
“Things are really bad,” said textile salesman Francisco Estrada.
“The next president must at least purge the police and clean up the government.”