A former general promising to get tough on rampant crime and drug violence easily won Guatemala’s presidential election, marking a shift to the right in the poor Central American nation.

Otto Perez Molina of the conservative Patriotic Party won 55 per cent of the vote, topping tycoon-turned-political populist Manuel Baldizon of the Democratic Freedom Revival party, who had 45 per cent, according to Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Perez, 61, is the first former military leader elected president in Guatemala in the 25 years after the end of brutal military rule. While that concerns some international groups, Guatemala has a young population, and many don’t remember the war.

Witnesses say hundreds of villages were obliterated by the army’s scorched—earth policy. Perez has said there were no massacres or genocide. He has never been charged with any atrocities and was one of the army’s chief representatives in negotiating the 1996 peace accords.

“The first thing to do will be to lower the levels of violence and insecurity that we are living with, and work with lawmakers to improve the state’s budget,” Perez said after hearing yesterday’s results.

Voter turnout was less than 50 per cent. In some regions it was about half what it was for the initial presidential election on Sept. 11, according analyst Oscar Almengor, who led a team of observers from the University of San Carlos of Guatemala.

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