Guatemala’s Top Presidential Candidates Skip Debate Before Vote

Two of Guatemala’s three leading presidential candidates skipped a nationally-televised debate on Thursday, a month before voters go to the polls in Central America’s biggest economy.

Manuel Baldizon, a former lawmaker who founded the Renewed Democratic Liberty Party, and former First Lady Sandra Torres both missed the event, which was attended by four other candidates. Current President Otto Perez Molina, who defeated Baldizon in 2011, isn’t eligible to run again.

A July 10-17 poll by Borge y Asociados for local magazine ContraPoder showed Baldizon leading the race with 35.1 support while comedian and television personality Jimmy Morales trailed in second with 14.5 support. Torres had 12.9 percent support. The survey of 1,201 people had a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points.

Baldizon, whose campaign plan promises tighter government spending and who says Guatemala’s economy should reach 6 percent annual growth, has granted few interviews since the campaign began in May. His running mate and former central bank chief Edgar Barquin is under investigation for his role in a money laundering scheme, a case Baldizon has called political persecution.

Guatemala’s central bank in June forecast economic growth of between 3.6 percent to 4.2 percent for this year.

Morales, who described himself as a “nationalist,” said at Thursday’s forum that he would seek to foster loans with favorable interest rates for small and medium business and support closer, “cautious” ties with China.

The top two candidates will face off in a second round on Oct. 25 if no one surpasses 50 percent in the Sept. 6 first-round vote.