- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

GUATEMALA CITY — A pro-business former mayor and a center-left candidate appeared headed for a runoff in Guatemala’s presidential election, according to partial results announced yesterday.

Retired Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, a former dictator accused of human rights abuses, was losing in what likely will be his last bid for the presidency.

With nearly 65 percent of the results from Sunday’s election recorded, former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger had 38.4 percent of the vote, compared with 27.6 percent for center-left candidate Alvaro Colom. Mr. Rios Montt, 77, was trailing with 16.9 percent.

To win Sunday’s vote outright and avoid a second round of voting, one candidate had to receive more than 50 percent of the vote — something no one has done in the history of Guatemala’s young democracy.

Because of delays in voting and reporting from different polling places, final results might not be available until today.

While both Mr. Berger and Mr. Colom were planning another campaign, Mr. Rios Montt hasn’t been seen since casting his vote on Sunday, and his campaign staff has stopped answering phones.

After his 1982 coup and subsequent overthrow, Mr. Rios Montt has made two bids for president, but was blocked both times by a constitutional ban on coup leaders seeking the office.

This time, however, the Supreme Court — packed with Rios Montt backers — cleared the way for his candidacy after violent protests in July by his supporters.

Many feared that Mr. Rios Montt and his followers would not accept defeat, but yesterday’s results were not disputed immediately.

The U.S. government warned that U.S.-Guatemalan relations would have suffered if Mr. Rios Montt was given another chance.

Human rights groups in Guatemala and Spain have accused Mr. Rios Montt’s former government of carrying out massacres during the country’s 36-year civil war, including the 1981 arson of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in which 37 persons died. Officials in both countries are investigating the charges. The war ended with peace accords in 1996.

The electoral loss could leave Mr. Rios Montt open to prosecution for human rights violations. As a member of Congress, he has immunity, but that expires at the end of his term in January.

President Alfonso Portillo, a member of Mr. Rios Montt’s Guatemalan Republican Front party, is banned by law from seeking a second consecutive term. He beat both Mr. Berger and Mr. Colom four years ago, when Mr. Colom ran with the support of former guerrillas and the left, but finished third.

This time, Mr. Colom has taken a more centrist approach, courting business leaders as well as the country’s large Indian population.


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