GUATEMALA CITY -- A right-wing businessman and a former leader in one of Guatemala's bloodiest regimes who has strong roots in the nation's large evangelical movement emerged yesterday as the candidates to be president in January after a first round of voting failed to select a majority winner.
The two leading candidates were Jorge Carpio Nicolle of the National Centrist Union, the pre-election favorite, and Jorge Serrano Elias of the Solidarity Action Movement.
[With 53 percent of the votes counted, according to the Associated Press, Mr. Serrano had 26.6 percent of the votes and Mr. Carpio 24.2 percent.]
The two front-runners, who have no basic differences on dealing with human rights abuses and economic inequities and who are both acceptable to Guatemala's still-dominant military, will run again Jan. 6.
The winner will succeed Christian Democrat Vinico Cerezo, ineligible to run again.
Mr. Carpio, a conservative, 48-year-old newspaper owner, has suffered from a reputation as a lackluster candidate; one of his major supporters once described him as having "the charisma of a baked potato."
But it was Mr. Serrano, the evangelical and one-time chief assistant to Gen. Efriam Rios Montt, the former dictator, who was a major surprise. He had been expected to finish no better than third.
Mr. Serrano, a 45-year-old Stanford University engineering graduate with a hard-line conservative economic view, had served as head of General Rios Montt's Council of State and was an outspoken supporter of the general's bloody policy of repression.
Neither candidate has proposed fundamental changes in what is one of the most unbalanced economic systems in Central America -- one that has left more than half the country underemployed or unemployed.