Funny business in Guatemala prez vote

Jimmy Morales

20151105-Jimmy MoralesGUATEMALA CITY – Former TV comic Jimmy Morales, who has no experience in government, declared himself the winner of Guatemala’s presidential election last week.

His win comes after a corruption scandal toppled the last president and stoked outrage with the political establishment.

The headquarters of Morales’ National Convergence Front (FCN) party erupted in a celebration with live music and dozens of early revelers, while all was quiet at the nerve centre of former first lady Sandra Torres’ party as a throng of reporters waited.

A political outsider promising clean government, Morales had 72.4% of the vote with returns in from 70% of polling stations, well ahead of Torres, who had around 27.6%.

With tales of his humble origins and jokes from a 14-year stint on a sketch comedy show, the 46-year-old Morales connected with voters fed up with corruption that sparked nationwide protests and finally toppled Otto Perez from the presidency last month.

“We are tired of the same faces. Jimmy Morales doesn’t really convince me, I was not even going to vote. But he is the only option,” said Ana Fuentes, 36, a street seller.

Morales has faced criticism over fanciful policy ideas, like promising to hand out smartphones to kids or tagging teachers with GPS devices to make sure they show up for class.

His manifesto runs to just six pages, giving few clues as to how he might govern, and his FCN party will have just 11 out of 158 seats in the next Congress.

A few months ago, Morales barely registered in polls but the clean-cut comic surged in popularity amid increasing publicity around the corruption probe by a UN-backed body.

It found Perez and his vice-president were at the heart of the customs scam known as La Linea. After being impeached, stripped of his presidential immunity and arrested, Perez is behind bars awaiting trial.