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Author`s name Alex Naumov

Runoff in Guatemala to tackle poverty and curb crime surge

Alvaro Colom, a Social democratic businessman, won Sunday’s presidential vote in Guatemala, but failed to obtain the 50 percent needed to become elected in the first round. With 95 percent of the votes counted, Alvaro Colom led the pack of candidates with 28 percent, followed by retired general Otto Perez Molina with 24 percent.

As per their campaigns, Colom believes that the main issue in today’s Guatemala is poverty, as Perez Molina proposed an iron fist to curb crime surge in the Central American nation. The results showed a crushing defeat for Rigoberta Menchu, who won the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her indigenous rights activism and who trailed far behind with just three percent of the vote.

In fact, both issues worry the 13 million of Guatemalans, who believe that poverty and insecurity are connected. Almost 80 percent of the Guatemalan population lives in poverty, so the young people faces two options: they either try emigrate to the United States through the Mexican border or join the Maras, gang bandits involved in drug trafficking.

Still, violence was a key issue in the election in Guatemala where 6,000 murders were reported last year. Perez Molina pledged to take a tough line against street gangs, drug dealers and other common criminals. The retired general wants to deploy the army, double the size of the police force and bring back the death penalty to combat street violence. Colom has said he would clean up the notoriously corrupt police force and the justice system, which many consider slow and ineffective.

"Let us not return to an era of blood and terror," Colom said in his final campaign rally, in a jab at his rival, whose credentials include stints in the 1990s at the head of military intelligence and a now-disbanded elite army corps blamed for executions of political opponents. Perez Molina, 56, who signed the 1996 peace accords, retired from the army in 2000 and later won a congressional seat.

According to electoral authorities as much as 29,300 candidates took part of the vote, which also elected members of Congress, governors, mayors and other posts. The hole process costed almost $ 100 million, a high number according to Latin American standards.

In contrast with the political violence that left about 50 dead in the run-up to the vote, electoral observers hailed what they said was generally calm balloting and authorities said there were some isolated problems.Officials reported one incident in eastern Guatemala, where security forces fired tear gas at protesters who burned ballots to protest what they claimed was electoral fraud.

Almost six million people were eligible to participate in Sunday's elections. Among the candidates for the 158-seat unicameral congress was former dictator and Efrain Rios Montt, who has been accused of human rights violations during his 1982-1983 rule.

Hernan Etchaleco