The people of Guatemala chose Jimmy Morales as their next President in the elections held on 25 October. They gave Morales, a former TV comedian, an overwhelming 67.44% of the votes. His opponent Sandra Torres got just 32.56%.
The election result should be seen as a victory for the people of Guatemala in their struggle against corruption and impunity. The Guatemalans have made their voice loud and clear by choosing a political outsider and decisively rejecting the traditional political oligarchy. In fact, this is the second victory. The people had achieved their first one in September when President Otto Perez was forced to resign and put in jail facing a trial for his involvement in the La Linea (The Line) corruption scandal. His vice president and some senior officials were imprisoned before him. The courageous and continued protests of the people for over six months from April lead to this unprecedented resignation and jailing of a sitting president.
Morales comes from a poor family unlike the previous presidents of the country who were from the oligarchy or military. Until April, when the corruption scandal surfaced, Morales had single digit ratings with no hope of win. He was trailing way behind the candidates of traditional political establishment. The luck of Morales changed dramatically after the direct implication of President Otto Perez Molina and his vice-president.
Although he became famous as a comedian, Morales holds University degrees in business administration as well as theology. He joined politics only in 2013 and became the secretary general of National Convergence Front, a small centre-right party.
Sandra Torres has conceded defeat gracefully wishing the winner success in his mandate. She did not blame the loss on electoral frauds nor did she call for recount, as has happened in some countries. This is a good sign of political realism and maturity in the young democracy of Guatemala, which had suffered military dictatorship and a terrible civil war which ended in 1996.
During the 2008-11 Presidential term of her husband Alvaro Colom, she had cultivated the poor by distributing doles to them like the Argentine Evita. But the goodwill generated by this and her leftist ideology got overtaken by the disgust of the people with the corruption scandal.
Morales will formally assume the charge on 14 January. In his victory speech, Morales attached top priority, understandably, to combat corruption. He also needs to tackle the rampant gang violence which has given a bad name to the country. Besides these immediate concerns, he would have to address the long term issues of poverty, health care and education especially among the native Indians who form over fifty percent of the population. He has to find new ways to raise funds for social expenditure since Guatemala has one of the lowest tax rates and revenue collection. His job is going to be challenging since his party has just 11 members in the 158 member Congress. He has not held any electoral office before and lacks administrative experience. In his campaign speeches, he had given out eccentric suggestions that the teachers should be tagged with GPS devices to monitor their attendance in schools and that every child should get a smart phone.
What is important is that the protests of the people, the resignation of the President, imprisonment of the President and Vice president, the interim transfer of power and now the election of a political outsider have all taken place peacefully. There was no firing on protestors nor any threat of a military coup. This is especially remarkable in view of the fact that Guatemala is a country with one of the highest rates of crimes and murders.
The success of the Guatemalan people has now become a source of inspiration for other Latin Americans fighting against corruption and impunity. It has raised the hope, confidence and optimism of Latin America which is marching towards a better future.