Monday, October 26, 2015 8:17 am
A former TV comedian, Jimmy Morales, who has never held office, swept to power in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday after milking public anger over a corruption scandal that deepened distrust of the country’s political establishment.
The 46-year-old Morales overwhelmingly beat centre-left rival and former first lady Sandra Torres in a run-off vote despite his lack of government experience and some policy ideas that strike many as eccentric.
The headquarters of Morales’ centre-right National Convergence Front (FCN) party erupted in celebration as official returns showed he had around 68 percent support in a landslide victory.
Voters pointed to widespread discontent with Guatemala’s political class, compounded by a U.N.-backed investigation into a multi-million dollar customs racket that led last month to the resignation and arrest of former president Otto Perez.
“As president I received a mandate, and the mandate of the people of Guatemala is to fight against the corruption that is consuming us,” Morales said on Sunday night.
The U.S. government has strongly supported the U.N.-backed investigators and their success has helped push against corruption in Central America, where economic hardship and gang violence spurred an exodus of migrants to the United States.
However, the anti-graft fervour has also led to the election of an unknown quantity in Guatemala. It is unclear how Morales will tackle gang violence or try to stem the flow of U.S.-bound migrants.
Morales was already a household name following a 14-year stint on a popular TV comedy and the self-proclaimed centrist from a humble background wooed voters with promises to tackle corruption and hand out millions of smartphones to children.
“We were tired of the same faces of people who get rich off our money,” said Eduardo Tablas, a maintenance man who voted for Morales. “He knows that if he does something corrupt, all of Guatemala will be demanding that he resign.”
Last year, Morales quit his TV show, which centered on skits and lewd jokes, to run for the presidency. Back in April, he barely registered in opinion polls but he soon surged as both Perez’s government and a candidate who was then leading the presidential race became mired in corruption probes.