GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Guatemalans will choose between a gaggle of presidential hopefuls on Sunday’s election at a time when drug trafficking and violence top the list of voter concerns, and a trailblazing anti-corruption commission is set to close down.
Voters will also elect 158 lawmakers to the unicameral Congress as well as scores of local officials spread across 22 departments in Central America’s most populous country.
If no presidential candidate wins more than 50% in Sunday’s first round election, a second round will be held in August. Some 8.5 million Guatemalans are eligible to vote.
What follows are brief profiles of six candidates - among a total of 19 - vying to be the country’s next leader.
Former First Lady Sandra Torres, 63, of the center-left National Unity of Hope (UNE) party leads the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a former television host. In 2002, she founded UNE along with her ex-husband Alvaro Colom, who was president from 2008 to 2012.
She has pledged to get tough on crime by sending troops onto the streets as well as reducing rampant poverty by boosting social programs, something she also prioritized when first lady.
Torres, who become the frontrunner in the polls after other leading candidates were disqualified, has run for president twice before. She faced accusations of illicit campaign financing during her 2015 presidential run, though she is immune from prosecution due to her status as a candidate.
Veteran diplomat and former congressman Edmond Mulet, 68, is competing for the Humanist Party, a new center-right grouping. The former U.N. official and ex-ambassador to the United States was first elected to Congress in the mid-1980s and went on to serve as the legislature’s president in the early 1990s.
Mulet turned his focus to diplomacy in 2000 when he became Guatemala’s ambassador to the European Union. He has criticized the United States for its insatiable demand for drugs and has promised to clean up government and improve security.
Running a bare bones campaign, Mulet surprised many by coming in second in a recent poll.
In his fourth consecutive run for president, 63-year-old surgeon Alejandro Giammattei has pledged to build a “wall of investment” along Guatemala’s border with Mexico as a means of promoting development and discouraging migration.
While he openly admits that he has been offered money from drug gangs, he says he always rebuffed them.
Giammattei is the head of the center-right Vamos party and he ran Guatemala’s prison system from 2005 to 2007. During that time, several prisoners died while behind bars, and in 2010 Giammattei was arrested and accused of abuse of power and involvement in extrajudicial executions.
He never went to trial in the case and was freed after being imprisoned for 10 months in a military jail.
The son of former conservative President Alvaro Arzu, Roberto Arzu has never run for office before. While he has consistently trailed the other candidates in the polls and his political resume is thin, he has served as a Latin American trade official in the government of current president Morales.
Arzu, 49, is also the ex-manager of Club de Futbol Comunicaciones, one of Guatemala’s top soccer clubs. As president, he has pledged to use the military to fight crime, build a million homes and create the same number of jobs, though he has not spelled out the plans in detail.
He has also emerged as a fierce critic of a U.N.-backed commission tasked with fighting corruption and organized crime known as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), after once supporting it.
CICIG is preparing to leave in September after Morales refused to renew its mandate.
The only indigenous woman presidential candidate in a country in which by some counts 60 percent of the population is indigenous. Cabrera’s Mayan Mam family were coffee pickers.
Her party is seeking an overhaul of the constitution to create what it calls a plurinational state that would give more power to the indigenous population.
A former paratrooper with Guatemala’s feared Kaibil special forces, Galdamez is running on a right-wing platform that wants to introduce the death penalty and eliminate income taxes.
Galdamez recently tweeted that in Guatemala’s bloody 1960-1996 civil war conflict he never killed anybody unjustly. “I only fought guerrillas and socialists,” he wrote. Galdamez has a low ranking in recent polls.
Reporting by Sonia Menchu and Adriana Barrera; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Franklin Paul