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Perez Molina wins Guatemalan presidential election

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:09 AM EST, Mon November 7, 2011
Otto Perez Molina, of Guatemala's Patriotic party, was the front-runner heading into the election.
Otto Perez Molina, of Guatemala's Patriotic party, was the front-runner heading into the election.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Nearly all of the ballots are counted
  • NEW: Retired Gen. Perez Molina garners more than 53% of the vote
  • Security issues loomed large during the campaign
  • Low voter turnout is reported

(CNN) -- Retired army Gen. Otto Perez Molina won Sunday's runoff presidential election in Guatemala, seizing on voters' concerns about growing insecurity in the Central American nation.

With 99.9% of ballots counted, he led with more than 53% of the vote, said Guatemala's election authority. His opponent, businessman Manuel Baldizon, garnered 46% of the vote.

Perez Molina, a retired army general who pledged to take a tough stand on crime, was the front-runner heading into the election. He won the most votes in the first round of voting in September.

Low voter turnout was reported in Sunday's election, according to the state-run AGN news agency.

The issue of security in Guatemala, which has worsened, as Mexican drug cartels have stepped up operations in parts of the country, dominated the vote.

In a Vox Latina national survey in July, more than two-thirds of Guatemalans said violence was what concerned them most, far outpacing the combined totals for the economy, unemployment, poverty and lack of education.

In a debate co-hosted by CNN en EspaƱol 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. The retired general pledged to bring a "mano dura" -- firm hand -- to Guatemala's highest office.

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.

The former general campaigned for president a second time this year. He was defeated in 2007 by incumbent President Alvaro Colom.

First-time candidate Baldizon, 41, who ran under the banner of the Leader Party, energized young voters. He promised to continue social and economic programs that he warned would be at risk, if Perez Molina won. Like the former general, Baldizon championed a crime-fighting plan.

Poverty is endemic in Guatemala, and the country has one of the worst crime rates in Latin America. Forty-three percent of children under 5 are chronically malnourished. And the murder rate last year was 42 per 100,000 people -- one of the highest in the world.

"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," resident Estuardo Sandoval said before the vote.

This is only the fourth time that Guatemala has held presidential elections since peace accords were signed in 1996, officially ending a civil war that devastated the country for 36 years. The conflict left more than 100,000 people dead and a million refugees.

The new president will take office in January.

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