In spite of violence that claimed some 50 lives, officials in Guatemala say they are prepared to carry out an efficient and secure electoral process on Sunday when voters go to the polls to elect a new president. But, as VOA's Greg Flakus reports from City, it is likely no clear winner will emerge and that a runoff vote will be necessary.
The two top contenders in the election are Alvaro Colom, head of the National Unity of Hope, and Otto Perez Molina, a former army general who leads the Patriotic Party.
The two men are in a statistical dead heat according to some polls, although a poll published here Friday shows Alvaro Colom nearly eight points ahead. But the same poll shows him around 15 points short of the 50 percent of the total vote needed to win outright.
That means Guatemala's new president is almost certainly going to be chosen in a runoff election that would be held November 4. In that contest, polls show, the right-leaning Perez Molina, who has called for a strong hand in fighting crime, would have a slight edge over Alvaro Colom, a left-leaning reform candidate.
Among the other candidates running in this round is 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, the first woman to run for president in this Central American nation. She is also from an indigenous group and has campaigned for social justice for the poor.
Several candidates from her party have been victims of violence in recent weeks, a reminder of the bitter legacy of Guatemala's 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Menchu is running a distant sixth among presidential candidates and polls show the majority of indigenous voters favor Alvaro Colom.
There was concern earlier this week that Hurricane Felix might disrupt the electoral process, but the storm passed through the region already and forecasts call for nothing more than normal rains on Sunday.
Julio Solorzano, Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal director of elections, says all is ready.
He says all is in place at the electoral center here in Guatemala City and in the precincts around the country. He says results should be known late Sunday.
Among the top issues in this election are crime, the economy and adoption reform. Guatemala has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world and drug trafficking gangs have overwhelmed police in many parts of the country.
The adoption issue has emerged because of reports of poor mothers selling babies to adoption rings. There have also been cases of children being kidnapped and later sold to adoption agencies. U.S. citizens adopted around 4,000 Guatemalan children last year. Some candidates have called this situation shameful and have called for tighter controls on adoption.