World

Jimmy Morales, TV comic, elected Guatemala president: world election roundup

Argentine voters seemed to call it a draw between the ruling party's presidential candidate and the leading opposition candidate, as a runoff has resulted in the race to succeed President Cristina Fernandez, a polarizing leader

Argentina race razor-close, run-off election will take place Nov. 22

National elections are taking place Sunday in a half-dozen countries. Here are the highlights:

Argentina

Daniel Scioli, left, is the front-runner in polls to succeed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, right. He may not be able to avoid a runoff vote next month, though. (Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press)

Argentine voters seemed to call it a draw between the ruling party's presidential candidate and the leading opposition candidate, as a runoff has resulted in the race to succeed President Cristina Fernandez, a polarizing leader who garnered both devotion and loathing as she spent heavily on the poor and blasted political opponents and even other nations like the United States.

With 80 per cent of polling places reporting early Monday, opposition candidate Mauricio Macri and ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli each had 35 per cent of the votes. Sergio Massa, a former Fernandez loyalist who broke away to form his own political movement, was third in the six-candidate field with 21 per cent.

The unexpected tight finish means Macri and Scioli will square off in a Nov. 22 runoff. To win the first round, a candidate had needed 45 per cent of the votes or 40 per cent and a 10-point advantage over the nearest competitor.

Scioli, the governor of the Buenos Aires province, had been viewed as an easy front-runner thanks to the support of Fernandez, who won admirers for rewriting Argentina's social contract but also drew sharp criticism for widespread allegations of corruption and numerous economic ills, like high inflation.

Numerous polls had predicted Scioli would win by more than 10 points, indicating the only question was whether he could gain enough votes to avoid a runoff.

The strong showing by Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, underscored that many voters are ready for change after 12 years of Kirchnerismo, the political movement founded by Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner.

"What happened today changes the politics of this country," Macri told supporters late Sunday.

Scioli, the governor of the Buenos Aires province and a former vice president, presented himself as the continuation of Fernandez's policies but who would also fix anything broken.

"I invite undecided and independent [voters] to join me in this great celebration of Argentine development," Scioli told a gathering of supporters late Sunday.

Macri campaign as the candidate to put Argentina's economy in order, promising to resolve a long-running fight with U.S. creditors and lift unpopular currency restrictions.

While Macri's moves raised eyebrows and drew sharp criticism from Scioli, they likely helped Macri capture undecided voters. But both candidates' decision to straddle the centre also led to many questions about what they would really do in office.

Many Argentines are worried about high government spending and inflation around 30 percent as well as being concerned about the legal fight with creditors in the U.S. that has kept the country out of international credit markets.

Still Argentines have a nightmarish reference point for a truly bad economy: the financial collapse of 2001-2002, when the country defaulted on $100 billion in debt and overnight millions of middle class people were impoverished. And Fernandez and her late husband are widely credited with lifting Argentina up from that crisis.

Scioli, a former boat racer who lost his right arm in an accident in 1989, bristled at suggestions that Fernandez would continue to dominate behind the scenes.

Guatemala

Jimmy Morales, presidential candidate for the National Convergence Front party (FCN) shows his ink-stained finger after casting his vote at a polling station in Guatemala City on Sunday. (Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters)

TV comic and self-styled outsider Jimmy Morales won election as Guatemala's next president Sunday, riding a wave of popular anger against the political class after huge anti-corruption protests helped oust the last government.

Morales, who is to assume the presidency Jan. 14 and has never held political office, said he would get right to work with a transition team to study economic issues and work on development-oriented government policies.

"It is not I who declare myself the winner but rather the people who have done so," said Morales, 46, who starred in the comedy Moralejas.

Morales claimed victory late Sunday and his runoff opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, conceded defeat after official results showed him winning around 68 per cent of the votes with 97 per cent of polling stations tallied. Election officials were expected to give a final count Monday.

"We recognize Jimmy Morales's triumph and we wish him success," Torres said. "Guatemala has serious problems, but the people made their choice and we respect it."

The runoff was held a month and a half after President Otto Perez Molina resigned and was jailed in connection with a sprawling customs scandal. His former vice president has also been jailed in the multimillion-dollar graft and fraud scheme.

Though the protests have died down since Perez Molina's resignation, many Guatemalans remain fed up with corruption and politics as usual, and Morales will face pressure to deliver immediately on widespread demands for reform.

"The important thing is that the next government avoids corruption," said Alexander Pereira, an insurance salesman who was the first to vote at one polling place. "I hope that the next government really makes a change. We had an achievement in kicking out the last government."

Haiti

Haitian President Michel Martelly, seen in 2010, is leaving office and the race to succeed him is a close one. ((Kena Betancur/Reuters) )

The successor to President Michel Martelly, constitutionally barred from seeking another term, is expected to be one of two candidates: Jude Célestin, 53, a Swiss-educated mechanical engineer who heads the LAPEH Party (Alternative League for Progress and Emancipation of Haiti) and who previously headed a government construction agency; or Jovenel Moïse, who is the owner of a banana exporting business in the north of the country. Moïse, 37, represents the ruling Parti Haitien Tet Kale (Haitian Party of Bald Heads), named after Martelly's famously smooth scalp.

Martelly, a popular singer, shook up the political order with his election victory in 2011 as the country was still reeling from a devastating earthquake. But critics say he failed to halt to corruption and political infighting

Celestin and Moïse are neck and neck in the polls, among more than 50 candidates in total.

Haitians faced lengthy ballots featuring 54 presidential hopefuls and a slew of legislative and municipal candidates Sunday as they selected leaders they hope can lift the nation out of chronic poverty and turbulence.

The presidential field was so crowded and confusing that there was little clarity about who might be leading after voting ended and tallying of paper ballots began. Pre-election polls were unreliable and contradictory, and electoral officials said partial results were not expected for at least 10 days.

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast voters headed to the polls on Sunday in the country's first presidential election since a disputed vote five years ago triggered violence in which more than 3,000 people died.

Incumbent President Alassane Ouattara is widely expected to prevail over a divided opposition and perhaps secure enough votes to avoid a runoff. Three members of an original roster of 10 candidates have withdrawn from the process citing doubts about the vote's fairness.

In 2010, Ouattara defeated incumbent Laurent Gbagbo who refused to concede, sparking the worst fighting the country has experienced since independence.

Poland

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz has conceded defeat after an exit poll showed that her pro-European Civic Platform party faced a decisive defeat by the right-wing Law and Justice party.

The exit poll by Ipsos shows that Law and Justice won 39.1 per cent of Sunday's parliamentary vote. If confirmed by official results, which are expected Monday, that would give Law and Justice 242 seats in the 460-seat lower house of parliament, allowing it to govern alone.

Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, assisted by her grandson Julian, casts her ballot in Warsaw during general elections Sunday. Kopacz conceded defeat Sunday after an exit poll showed her pro-European party faced a decisive defeat. (Alik Keplicz/Associated Press)

Kopacz's Civic Platform party has governed the country for eight years.

Civic Platform has overseen a period of strong economic growth and extraordinary political stability even during the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and a 2010 plane crash that killed the president and dozens of other state officials. Nonetheless, many voters have grown tired of it due to scandals and a sense that many of its leaders had grown complacent and out of touch.

A president backed by the party was defeated separately in May by the Law and Justice candidate, President Andrzej Duda. If Law and Justice wins the parliamentary vote, member of parliament Beata Szydlo would become prime minister, replacing incumbent Kopacz, the second woman to hold the country's premiership since democracy was restored in 1989. 

Tanzania

Tanzanians turned out in large numbers Sunday to vote in general elections in which the ruling party, a dominant force for decades, faces a strong challenge from a united opposition.

Many analysts believe the presidential race is too close to predict. The ruling party's candidate, Works Minister John Magufuli, is battling former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who defected to the opposition earlier this year after being rejected as the ruling party's candidate.

Lowassa, 62, was prime minister in President Jakaya Kikwete's government from 2005 to 2008, but was forced to resign by a corruption scandal.

Magufuli, 55, is widely seen as a corruption-free, effective public servant who could improve the ruling party's image in the eyes of ordinary people fed up with state graft.

Voters Sunday also chose lawmakers for the country's parliament and local officials.

With files from Reuters

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