Security issue looms large in Guatemalan election

Story highlights

  • Presidential runoff election is on Sunday
  • Security was the biggest issue facing voters
  • Retired Gen. Perez Molina was leading polls
Guatemalans will return to the polls Sunday in a runoff presidential election dominated by the issue of security.
Otto Perez Molina, a retired army general who pledged to take a tough stand on crime, garnered the most votes in the first round of voting, and was leading in the polls heading into the election.
His opponent is businessman Manuel Baldizon, who championed a crime-fighting plan called "Security Now!"
Following the first round of voting in September, observers from the Organization of American States criticized Guatemalan election officials' apparent disorganization and slow vote-counting, the state-run AGN news agency reported. The watchdogs said they hoped the process would improve in Sunday's second round.
Security in Guatemala, which has increased as Mexican drug cartels have begun to operate in parts of the country, was the most important issue to voters.
In a debate co-hosted by CNN en Español earlier this year, Perez Molina called for "elite units of the army" to play a larger role in the nation's battle against gangs and drug cartels.
But that proposed approach -- and Perez Molina's high rank in the military during Guatemala's decades-long civil war -- worries human rights groups both in Guatemala and abroad.
Concerns stem from the fact that the Guatemalan military committed multiple atrocities during the civil war, though Perez Molina has never been directly implicated in any of them
Perez Molina is campaigning for president for a second time. He was defeated in 2007 by incumbent President Alvaro Colom.
First-time candidate Baldizon, 41,is running under the banner of the Leader Party, and has energized young voters.
Baldizon has promised to continue social and economic programs that he says are at risk if Perez Molina wins.
"All Guatemalans hope that all the promises are kept and that they are not simply campaign slogans to reach power and then forget about the promises," said resident Estuardo Sandoval.
The new president will take office in January.