Former First Lady Torres takes the lead in Guatemala's elections

CIUDAD DE GUATEMALA - Center-left candidate Sandra Torres took an early lead in Guatemala's presidential election on Sunday, but an absolute majority and could have a second round in a conservative candidate for an important test.

The preliminary results of the electoral tribunal gave the first first lady Torres 24.20% of the votes, followed by the conservative Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei with 15.20%, based on the returns of 29% of the polling stations.

Nineteen candidates participated in the election that is almost certain to be decided in the second round of voting between the two main candidates on August 11.

The next president will face the challenge of curbing the violence of the drug gangs that have devastated the country and helped to stimulate illegal immigration to the United States, fueling tensions with President Donald Trump.

Torres, from the center-left party UNE, has led the race to succeed President Jimmy Morales, a former conservative television anchor whose term has been ruined by corruption allegations made by US-backed investigators.

However, Torres also has negative ratings and can fight for a second round if the supporters of the many center-center candidates join against him.

In third place, with 12.42% was Edmond Mulet, a former official of the University of the United States whose conservative candidacy has won in recent weeks.

Torres, who wants to send troops to the streets and use social assistance programs to fight poverty, extended a hand to Guatemala's business elite by voting on Sunday.

"We have solved our problems here, and part of the reason for immigration is the lack of jobs, the gap between the salaries of the United States and those of the United States," he said. "We need to work together with the business community to reactivate the economy."

Unbridled violence and widespread discontent over corruption and impunity in the country of 17 million people have led more Guatemalans to flee to the United States.

The increase in departures has undermined Trump's commitment to curbing illegal immigration, and the President of the United States has responded with assistance to Central America.

That perspective has caused alarm in Guatemala, where the legacy of the bloody civil war of 1960-1996 still overshadows the country's development.

The rain fell on Guatemala City during the vote on Sunday and the results suggested that there was considerable discontent among the electorate over the election of candidates on offer. More than 12% of the votes were withdrawn or the ballots were ruined, according to the initial count.

The Eurasia Advisory Group said on Saturday that Torres would fight to win a second round, given its high negative rating and the ability to paralyze it.

Morales, who is prohibited by law from seeking re-election, took office in 2016 and promised to eradicate corruption after his predecessor was overthrown by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) backed by the United States.

On the other hand, Morales himself became the target of an investigation by CICIG into allegations of irregularities in the financing of campaigns and was the subject of a political impeachment process in 2017.

He survived the attempt to expel him and then engaged in a bitter dispute with the CICIG before he finally finished his term, starting in September.

None of the main contenders has unequivocally endorsed CICIG, and Torres said he would consider holding a referendum on whether to remain in Guatemala

Fernando Escalante, 41, an industrial design consultant, said the president.

"I am afraid that all the progress we have made may be lost, but maybe it is time for Guatemalans to assume the task," he said.

Issues of legalization have remained in the 2019 competition since two of the main candidates were expelled, including Thelma Aldana, a former attorney general who tried to condemn Morales with CICIG. The government accused Aldana of corruption, which led to his exclusion last month.