No joke: Guatemalan comedian wins presidency in landslide

Comic Jimmy Morales wins presidential election in a landslide over former first lady Sandra Torres.

GUATEMALA CITY, GUATEMALA (OCTOBER 25, 2015) (REUTERS) – Jimmy Morales, a former TV comedian who has never held office, swept to power in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday (October 25) after milking public anger over a corruption scandal that deepened distrust of the country’s political establishment.

The 46-year-old Morales overwhelmingly beat center-left rival and former first lady Sandra Torres in a run-off vote despite his lack of government experience and some policy ideas that strike many as eccentric.

Morales’ rival Torres warned voters that the country needed experience, not a maverick.

The headquarters of Morales’ center-right National Convergence Front (FCN) party erupted in celebration as official returns showed he had around 68 percent support in a landslide victory.

“From the presidency, I will be able to serve 15 million (of Guatemalans) inside the national territory and two million in the United States who also supported us on this occasion,” Morales told supporters on Sunday night.

Voters pointed to widespread discontent with Guatemala’s political class, compounded by a U.N.-backed investigation into a multi-million dollar customs racket that led last month to the resignation and arrest of former president Otto Perez.

Morales was already a household name following a 14-year stint on a popular TV comedy and the self-proclaimed centrist from a humble background wooed voters with promises to tackle corruption and hand out millions of smartphones to children.

Last year, Morales quit his TV show, which centered on skits and lewd jokes, to run for the presidency. Back in April, he barely registered in opinion polls but he soon surged as both Perez’s government and a candidate who was then leading the presidential race became mired in corruption probes.

“I’m a common man like you. I don’t have super-powers nor magic and I’ve never said I do. But I do have a swollen heart that loves this nation and, together, we’re going to fight for her,” he told the cheering crowd.

The election is a wake-up call to the impoverished Central American country’s established parties, which have been shaken by investigations led by the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the U.N.-backed anti-corruption body, which toppled Perez.

Morales, a former theology student with socially conservative leanings, has applauded CICIG’s work and vowed to extend its remit. But now he will now face a test of just how honest he can make the government under the watch of the CICIG.

Morales said late on Sunday that he would not stand in the way of any probes of his own government.

Still, he has given little detail on his plans to overcome entrenched corruption besides promising to put more money into justice, make government spending transparent and audit institutions.

The U.S. government has strongly supported the U.N.-backed investigators and their success has helped push against corruption in Central America, where economic hardship and gang violence spurred an exodus of migrants to the United States.