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Guatemala presidential candidate quits race alleging fraud

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — Conservative Manuel Baldizón has withdrawn from Guatemala‘s presidential race, leaving a former first lady to face off against a comedian who made his name playing a simpleton who almost becomes president in pole position to lead the Central American country.

Baldizón withdrew on Monday, alleging fraud, leaving the first-round vote winner and political novice Jimmy Morales in a straight run-off against former first lady and social democrat Sandra Torres on October 25.

The right-leaning Morales topped the poll on September 6 after a tumultuous week in which the outgoing president, Otto Pérez Molina, was stripped of his immunity over allegations of corruption, resigned and was arrested. He is now awaiting trial. Pérez Molina was ineligible to seek re-election under Guatemalan law.

Recommended: How Guatemala’s Otto Pérez Molina fell from grace and what it means for upcoming elections

The electoral tribunal had yet to decide who finished second — the count was very close — and would go up against millionaire Morales in the runoff. Now, with Baldizón out, it will be Torres.

Baldizón, 45, alleges fraud in the vote counting and claimed this cost him support.

He said he is leaving his Renewed Democratic Freedom party altogether and will focus on his business interests and his family.

“This is a very murky election,” said Fidel de León, a spokesman for Baldizón’s party. “We decline to take part in the run-off.”

The first place finish of the comedian Morales has been interpreted as a clear sign that Guatemalans are fed up with rampant corruption and politics as usual in this violence-plagued Central American country where more than half the population lives in poverty.

Prosecutors and investigators from a UN commission tasked with fighting high-level graft accuse Pérez Molina of orchestrating a scheme in which businesses paid bribes to corrupt officials in exchange for illegal discounts on their customs duties.

The scheme collected $3.8 million in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015, including $800,000 each to Pérez Molina and jailed ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti, prosecutors allege.

Read more coverage of Guatemala’s elections and recent customs scandal

 

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