October 29, 2007 / 4:44 PM / 12 years ago

Leftist pulls ahead in Guatemala election poll

GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Center-left candidate Alvaro Colom has a small lead over a right-wing retired general before Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday, pointing to a tight finish in the violence-torn race, a new poll showed on Monday.

Colom had 39.4 percent support and Gen. Otto Perez Molina, a former head of military intelligence during Guatemala’s long civil war, trailed with 35.1 percent in El Periodico newspaper’s opinion poll.

Both candidates in the runoff election have spent millions of dollars in a closely fought race marred by violence. Over 50 activists and party members have been killed since campaigning began last year.

Perez Molina commanded troops in one of Guatemala’s most violent areas during a 1960-96 civil war but he also helped negotiate peace agreements. He had edged ahead of Colom in recent polls with tough promises to use the army to clamp down on crime in the troubled Central American nation.

Guatemala has one of the world’s highest murder rates, with nearly 6,000 people slain last year in a country of 13 million.

Perez Molina has blanketed the airwaves with flashy commercials and jingles to drive home his anti-crime message since Colom won the first round of voting in September.

Colom, a businessman and former deputy economy minister, is running for president for the third time. He wants to boost spending on education and health and says a vote for Perez Molina would be a step backward into Guatemala’s dark past of military rule.

Analysts say the two candidates have very similar market-friendly economic policies.

Colom’s National Unity for Hope Party has suffered from infighting and violence during the election campaign, with the party’s lead strategist resigning just weeks before Sunday’s vote after receiving death threats.

The new poll of 1,008 people was conducted Oct. 20-25 and had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

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