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Polls Predict Victory for Berger in Guatemala Presidential Runoff - 2003-12-27

Pollsters say former Guatemala City Mayor Oscar Berger is the leading candidate to become Guatemala's president. Guatemalans go to the polls Sunday in a presidential run-off election in which voter turnout is expected to be low.

The controversial former dictator, retired General Efrain Rios Montt was eliminated from the presidential race on November 9 when he came in third. But neither the first nor second place vote-getters won the more than 50 percent of the votes needed to claim the presidency outright. Now they must face off in a run-off round.

Opinion polls give Oscar Berger anywhere between a 10- and 16-point lead. The 57-year-old former Guatemala City mayor is on the ticket of a conservative alliance of three smaller parties with strong ties to Guatemala's traditional economic elite.

His rival, 52-year-old engineer Alvaro Colom, is considered to be more of a political outsider. He has never held an elected office but has held high-level government posts including vice minister of economy and director of the National Fund for Peace. He says the polls here are manipulated to favor Berger and predicts an upset.

In the first round elections in November, voters turned out in record numbers, a showing analysts attributed to a desire to remove General Rios Montt from the running. But this time around political analysts and pollsters are predicting low voter turnout.

Traditionally less people come out to vote in second round elections than in first rounds. And in this race, analysts say, neither of the two candidates inspire great enthusiasm or controversy among Guatemalans. What is more, voting day falls in the middle of many Guatemalans year-end vacations.

Election results are expected late Sunday night.