Guatemala's former presidential frontrunner, Manuel Baldizon, has resigned from the Lider party and ended his candidacy amid rumors of mounting legal troubles, as the political crisis in the wake of the fall of President Otto Perez inches towards a conclusion.
Baldizon announced his resignation from the political party he founded during a radio interview on September 14, reported elPeriodico. He is now out of contention in a tight presidential race that many expected him to win.
Baldizon finished third in Guatemala's September 6 presidential election, narrowly missing the chance to compete in a two-candidate run-off in October. However, with the gap between Baldizon and second placed Sandra Torres amounting to a handful of votes, it was believed he would contest the initial vote count. In the wake of the election, Baldizon was critical of the process, calling it "illegitimate" and saying that he would not accept the results of Guatemala's electoral tribunal, according to elPeriodico.
The decision leaves Torres, representing the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, to square off against Jimmy Morales of the National Convergence Front (FCN), who won the first round of elections.
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A long time powerbroker from the northern state of Peten, Baldizon had been widely considered the frontrunner not just for months but for years ahead of September's presidential elections in Guatemala. However, the resignation and arrest of President Otto Perez in the corruption scandal that has shaken the foundations of the country's political elite has turned expectations about the elections on their head.
Baldizon's resignation brings his presidential campaign to a stunning conclusion. Following his resignation, Baldizon said he plans on remaining politically active, but pressing legal matters will likely make this difficult. The former Lider candidate had been running a non-stop campaign ever since the last presidential election in 2011, and pumped an extraordinary sum of money into his campaign by Guatemalan standards. Although he has never been charged, this has led to suspicion that Baldizon's campaign was financed in part by various shadowy figures within Guatemala -- shadowy figures that may not be pleased with his dramatic loss from a seemingly winning position.
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The mystery swirling around Baldizon was heightened when a rumor emerged that Baldizon had been killed in an airplane crash in Costa Rica. Costa Rican authorities and Guatemalan media later clarified the rumor was false (See tweet below), but the episode nonetheless fueled speculation that Baldizon may be looking for ways to escape financial backers angry over their significant investment in a losing candidate.
Ante rumores sobre un helicóptero con políticos de Guatemala q se estrelló en el país, informamos que es falso. NO existe accidente alguno.
— Seguridad Pública (@seguridadcr) September 10, 2015
Baldizon could also come under the spotlight as a result of ongoing investigations into his running mate, Edgar Baltazar Barquin Duran. In July, authorities implicated Barquin Duran in a multi-million dollar money laundering scheme, bringing the fall from grace of Guatemala's former top presidential candidate that much closer.