Retired general sweeps to power in Guatemala election

Mon Nov 7, 2011 7:37am GMT

By Elinor Comlay and Mike McDonald

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A retired right-wing general promising a crackdown on violent crime won Guatemala's presidential election on Sunday and will be the first military man to take power since democracy was restored in 1986.

Otto Perez had 54.2 percent support with results in from 98 percent of polling stations while his rival, wealthy businessman Manuel Baldizon, trailed with 45.8 percent.

Guatemala's electoral tribunal declared Perez the winner late on Sunday, and his supporters began celebrating in the streets.

It was a clear move to the right for Central America's largest economy and came after leftist President Alvaro Colom failed to contain violent crime or protect the country from Mexican drug cartels using it as a key smuggling route.

Perez, 60, won the run-off election by promising a "firm hand" against crime. He has vowed by deploying troops on the streets and increasing the size of the police force.

"From the first day on, Guatemalans are going to see they've got a president committed to defending the lives and safety of all Guatemalans," Perez said late on Sunday, vowing to devote at least 60 percent of his time on security.

Supporters set off fireworks and joined a street party near the convention centre where the votes were counted. They sported the Patriot Party's orange colours on shirts and caps and waved their fists in the air in imitation of Perez's clenched-hand campaign emblem.

Guatemala's murder rate is about eight times that of the United States and many of the country's 14.7 million people want a tougher stance on crime.   Continued...

Retired general Otto Perez of the right-wing Patriot Party (R) celebrates with his wife Rosa Leal and supporters after winning the second round of presidential elections in Guatemala City November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
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