In a race plagued by violence, murder and unregulated campaign financing, it’s not so much a question of who is running in Guatemala’s general elections as who isn’t.
A religious minister, a military officer, an ex-president, a president’s ex-wife and the daughter of a former dictator have all thrown their hats into the ring, although some are no longer in the running.
Despite exorbitantly expensive campaign trails which have littered the country’s landscape with political propaganda, constitutional to-ing and fro-ing has denied a number of applicants from competing for the top prize.
Sandra Torres, the ex-wife of current president Álvaro Colom, ignited controversy back in March when she filed for divorce in order to skirt a law which prohibits relatives of the president from taking power.
Citing ‘love for her country’ as the reason for ending her marriage, she said: ‘I am neither the first nor the last woman to divorce in this country. But I am the first to divorce for Guatemala.’
The divorce was granted by a judge, but her application for candidacy has repeatedly been denied by the courts.
A Swiss-born candidate had his request rejected because he was not of ‘Guatemalan origin’, but was accepted days later. Officials also wavered on the candidacy of an evangelical minister: they initially dismissed him on religious grounds, then reversed their decision.
One of the few candidates free of legal impediments is the strong favourite, hard-liner Otto Pérez Molina. The former general narrowly lost out in a run-off vote to Colom in the 2007 general elections. In Guatemala, history dictates that the person who came second in the last election will usually win the next.
But he might not have it all his own way. Human rights groups are pushing for Pérez Molina to be investigated for massacres carried out while he was intelligence chief, during Guatemala’s brutal 30-year civil war.
Among the nine remaining presidential hopefuls, one is an ex-con who started campaigning three days after being released from prison; and another is a man who promises to take the country to the FIFA Soccer World Cup Finals if he gets elected.
Guatemala’s one-term presidential policy, a safeguard against dictatorial rule, means all 158 seats in congress are up for grabs and the presidential vote will probably go to a second round in November.
Many Guatemalans are resigned to the fact that these elections won’t bring about the change their country so desperately needs, saying: ‘It’s not about choosing who’s best for the country, but who’s the least worst.’