By Marion V. Ali
Jimmy Morales, a former Guatemalan comedian who has publicly said he thinks Guatemala should actively pursue its claim to Belize, emerged as that country’s president on Sunday after a sweeping victory over his only rival, former Guatemalan first lady, Sandra Torres.
Morales won by more than double the votes cast in Sunday’s run-off bid, taking close to 68 percent of the votes. He has been adamant against corruption, and grounded his election campaign on fighting corruption, allowing for good governance and accountability.
But while he is loved in his country, in Belize, Morales was understandably the least favoured, heading into the election.
Tension between Belize and Guatemala has grown, after frequent encounters between their military and Belizean civilians, ended in less than friendly situations, particularly in the south of Belize.
The party to which Morales belongs, the National Convergence Front (FCN) was founded by a group of retired army officers, including veterans of the Guatemalan Civil War, affiliated with the Military Veterans Association of Guatemala.
Some of them have been implicated in rights abuse during the 1960-1996 civil war. Former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt is facing genocide charges for his role in the conflict, in which 200,000 died.
Morales has sought to distance himself from the founding members of the party, but one of them, Colonel Edgar Ovalle, was a close campaign adviser, and will head the FCN’s 11-member contingent in the 158-seat Congress.
Morales gained national popularity in Guatemala in March 2013 when his party named him its secretary-general. But his fame grew exponentially over the past few months leading up to the fall from grace of Guatemala’s former president, Otto Perez Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti, both now jailed on allegations of corruption.
On a campaign entitled, “Neither Corrupt nor a Thief”, the political newcomer told his Guatemalan supporters soon after his presidency was announced on Sunday, “For 20 years I have made you laugh; I promise that as president I won’t make you cry.”
But political pundits in Guatemala, have criticized Morales’ inexperience as a politician to effectively stomp out corruption, saying he “has no concrete plans to fight corruption, or anything else, for that matter.”
The former comedian won the first round of presidential elections on September sixth over Sandra Torres and businessman, Manuel Baldizon, who just months before that election, was the front runner and the favoured candidate. But Baldizon’s connection to the former president and vice president’s party resulted in major rejection at the polls.