Comedian Jimmy Morales’ win in Guatemala’s presidential election closes the embarrassing saga of corruption that had the people protesting in the streets until they ousted former President Otto Pérez-Molina, who is now steps away from incarceration. The successful election and its second round signify the consolidation of the Central American nation’s democratic resources.
The new challenge starts with the swearing-in ceremony scheduled for January 14, as the country that Morales is in charge of governing deeply distrusts those in power. The fact that the electorate chose a neophyte who has never held public office over candidates with more experience shows their dissatisfaction with career politicians. However, the complicated part is that, during Sunday’s second round, abstention reigned. Morales obtained 70% of the votes, but only 50% of the electorate cast their ballot.
This puts the winner in a delicate situation, lacking the support of the majority. His popularity outside of politics was not enough to convince the majority of Guatemalans of his virtues. Additionally, it cannot be ignored that most of his support comes from the entrepreneurial, the right-wing military and the fundamentalist evangelical sectors.
Morales needs to keep in mind the political realities surrounding his triumph. His mission is to govern for 15.8 million Guatemalans –54% of whom live in poverty, – to guarantee public safety in a society where more than 6,000 people are murdered every year, to combat corruption and to earn the people’s trust. To do this, he must successfully balance the interests of those who supported him and of the poorer sectors. The business sector’s attack on public spending – which they blame for corruption – immediately after Morales’ victory is an example of the pressure to come.
In order to govern, Morales needs the opposition’s support. Hopefully, the whole political leadership will step up to the plate at this important juncture in Guatemalan history.