updated 11/5/2007 12:48:58 AM ET 2007-11-05T05:48:58

Alvaro Colom, a businessman promising to end Guatemala’s desperate poverty, won the country’s presidential election Sunday.

Colom beat retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, who conceded defeat after results from 97 percent of the vote showed him trailing Colom by 6 percentage points in the two-man runoff.

“I am the nation’s president elect,” Colom, of the center-left National Unity of Hope Party, told cheering supporters.

Colom had nearly 53 percent of the vote, while Perez, of the conservative Patriotic Party, had 47, according to results published on Guatemala’s Electoral Tribunal Web site.

Electoral officials had not declared an official winner late Sunday but Perez acknowledged that Colom’s lead was insurmountable.

“We are going to be a constructive opposition,” said Perez, who ran on a tough anti-crime platform. “We’re willing to keep fighting the war against impunity, the war against corruption and against violence.”

Calm prevailed during the vote, which was guarded by more than 30,000 police and soldiers, on alert after weeks of campaigning marred by violence. There were no reports of serious incidents Sunday, when about 47 percent of the 6 million registered voters went to the polls.

Living on $2 a day
Security was a top issue among voters in Central America’s most violent country, with more than 5,000 homicides per year.

Colom, a 56-year-old former vice economy secretary and ordained Mayan minister, promised jobs, a judicial overhaul and increased social spending in Guatemala, where more than half of the country’s 13 million people live on less than $2 a day.

Colom said he would use his experience brokering a civil war peace pact to reduce crime.

Perez, also 56, held a slight lead in polls heading into the vote. He promised to institute the death penalty, hire more police and send soldiers into the streets to fight crime.

A former military intelligence director, he has been accused of overseeing massacres during Guatemala’s 1960-96 civil war, which he denies.

In one gang infested Guatemala City neighborhood, soldiers carrying automatic weapons and police with shotguns guarded polls.

Ruben Cruz, 60, a studio photographer, said Guatemala must deal with gangs that extort money from businesses and residents. He said thugs come to his home every four months to collect what they call taxes.

“I voted for Colom because he offers jobs for a lot of people, but also to fight criminals,” Cruz said.

But housewife Marta Bustamante, 40, praised Perez.

“I like the fact that he’s an army officer and that he’s strict,” she said. “Here we need that. There are too many gangs.”

Harrowing campaign
Political violence made for a harrowing campaign, with more than 50 candidates, party activists and their family members killed. Last month, Perez’s secretary and a presidential security guard were gunned down.

In the first round of voting in September, Perez and Colom finished far ahead of 12 other candidates, including Nobel winner and Mayan activist Rigoberta Menchu. Pre-election polls gave Perez a slight edge in Sunday’s vote.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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