Former TV comedian Jimmy Morales, who has no experience in government, won Guatemala’s presidential election in a landslide on Sunday after a corruption scandal toppled the last president and stoked outrage with the political establishment.
The headquarters of Morales’ National Convergence Front (FCN) party erupted in a celebration with live music and dozens of early revelers.
A political outsider promising clean government, Morales had 72.4 percent of the vote with returns in from 70 percent of polling stations, well ahead of former first lady Sandra Torres, who had around 27.6 percent.
Well before the full tally was announced, Morales claimed victory and Torres conceded defeat.
“As president I received a mandate, and the mandate of the people of Guatemala is to fight against the corruption that is consuming us. God bless and thank you,” Morales said as results showed him on course for a massive victory.
With tales of his humble origins and jokes from a 14-year stint on a sketch comedy show, the 46-year-old Morales connected with voters fed up with corruption that sparked nationwide protests and finally toppled Otto Perez from the presidency last month.
“We are tired of the same faces. Jimmy Morales doesn’t really convince me, I was not even going to vote. But he is the only option,” said Ana Fuentes, 36, a street seller.
Morales has faced criticism over fanciful policy ideas, like promising to hand out smartphones to kids or tagging teachers with GPS devices to make sure they show up for class.
His manifesto runs to just six pages, giving few clues as to how he might govern, and his FCN party will have just 11 out of 158 seats in the next Congress.
“He has no program and no team,” said Hugo Novales, a political analyst at Guatemalan think tank ASIES. “But discontent is so high that those issues aren’t a priority for your average voter.”
Voters largely rejected his rival Torres, 60, as part of the old political order.
Torres vowed to extend welfare programs that were once a hallmark of the presidency of Alvaro Colom, when she was first lady, but critics accused her of using the programs to buy votes among the rural poor.
Just a few months ago, Morales barely registered in polls, but the clean-cut comic surged in popularity amid increasing publicity around the corruption probe by a U.N.-backed body.
It found that Perez and his vice president were at the heart of the customs scam known as La Linea. After being impeached, stripped of his presidential immunity and arrested last month, Perez is now behind bars awaiting trial.
The success of the U.N.-backed investigators has helped the U.S. government’s push against corruption in Central America, where economic hardship and gang violence spurred a migrant Exodus to the United States.
Another short-term result is the election of an unknown quantity in Guatemala.
Morales, who describes himself as a centrist, has had to reassure voters his party is not too close to the military, which played an often brutal role in Guatemala’s 1960-1996 civil war.
Some founders of his FCN were members of the army, though Morales says the party’s core is now civilian.
Others worry about the policy agenda of the former comic and theology student, who threatened to revive a territorial dispute with neighboring Belize.