Campaign chaos sows disillusion ahead of Guatemala vote

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, waves to supporters during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday'

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, waves to supporters during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday'

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, girls stand on a car of political party supporters during a campaign rally for their presidential candidate E

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, girls stand on a car of political party supporters during a campaign rally for their presidential candidate E

In this Thursday, June 13, 2019, photo, a vandalized campaign poster of Manfredo Marroquin, presidential candidate of the Encuentro political party, i

In this Thursday, June 13, 2019, photo, a vandalized campaign poster of Manfredo Marroquin, presidential candidate of the Encuentro political party, i

FILE - In this  June 12, 2019, file photo, Thelma Cabrera, presidential candidate of the Movement for the Liberation of the People, MLP, delivers a sp

FILE - In this June 12, 2019, file photo, Thelma Cabrera, presidential candidate of the Movement for the Liberation of the People, MLP, delivers a sp

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, women observe from afar a rally of Thelma Cabrera, presidential candidate of the Movement for the Liberation

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, women observe from afar a rally of Thelma Cabrera, presidential candidate of the Movement for the Liberation

FILE - In this  June 12, 2019, file photo, Edmond Mulet, presidential candidate of the Humanist political party, waves to residents as he campaigns pr

FILE - In this June 12, 2019, file photo, Edmond Mulet, presidential candidate of the Humanist political party, waves to residents as he campaigns pr

In this June 12, 2019, photo, a supporter holds a flag of the Humanist political party, right, next to corn tortillas vendors waiting for presidential

In this June 12, 2019, photo, a supporter holds a flag of the Humanist political party, right, next to corn tortillas vendors waiting for presidential

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, man waits for a bus as supporters participate in a campaign rally for Edmond Mulet, presidential candidate of

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, man waits for a bus as supporters participate in a campaign rally for Edmond Mulet, presidential candidate of

FILE - In this June 12, 2019, file photo, Roberto Arzu, presidential candidate of the PAN and Podemos party coalition, center, arrives to a campaign r

FILE - In this June 12, 2019, file photo, Roberto Arzu, presidential candidate of the PAN and Podemos party coalition, center, arrives to a campaign r

FILE - In this  June 13, 2019, file photo, Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos political party, speaks with reporters during a p

FILE - In this June 13, 2019, file photo, Alejandro Giammattei, presidential candidate of the Vamos political party, speaks with reporters during a p

In this Thursday, June 13, 2019, photo, campaign posters hang on a pole on Reforma Avenue in Guatemala City. The road to Sunday’s presidential electio

In this Thursday, June 13, 2019, photo, campaign posters hang on a pole on Reforma Avenue in Guatemala City. The road to Sunday’s presidential electio

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, musician cleans the sweat from his brow as he walks towards a campaign rally for Roberto Arzu, presidential c

In this Wednesday, June 12, 2019, photo, musician cleans the sweat from his brow as he walks towards a campaign rally for Roberto Arzu, presidential c

Supporters cheer for Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday

Supporters cheer for Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday

Supporters of Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, dance during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday'

Supporters of Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, dance during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday'

Supporters cheer for Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday

Supporters cheer for Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday

People sit on bleachers installed for the closing campaign rally of Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, pr

People sit on bleachers installed for the closing campaign rally of Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, pr

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, kisses a girl during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday's gene

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, kisses a girl during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday's gene

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE stands on stage during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday's gen

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE stands on stage during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday's gen

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE laughs during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday's general elec

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE laughs during her closing campaign rally prior to Sunday's general elec

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, right, and her running mate Carlos Raul Morales laugh during their clo

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, right, and her running mate Carlos Raul Morales laugh during their clo

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, shakes hands with supporters during her closing campaign rally prior t

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, shakes hands with supporters during her closing campaign rally prior t

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, shakes hands with supporters during her closing campaign rally prior t

Sandra Torres, presidential candidate of the National Unity of Hope party, UNE, shakes hands with supporters during her closing campaign rally prior t

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The road to Sunday's presidential election in Guatemala has been a chaotic flurry of court rulings and shenanigans, illegal party-switching and allegations of malfeasance that torpedoed the candidacies of two of the top three candidates.

Observers say the result is widespread disillusion and distrust in the electoral process in this small Central American country that has seen hundreds of thousands flee poverty and gang violence in recent years in a bid for a new life in the United States.

Polls favor former first lady Sandra Torres of the National Unity and Hope party to finish first, but with 19 candidates in the race it is unlikely she will win the absolute majority necessary to avoid a runoff.

Torres, 64, is a businesswoman who was seen as influencing decision-making during the 2008-2012 government of her then-husband, Álvaro Colom. She served as coordinator of the Council on Social Cohesion, an entity that was replaced by the Ministry of Social Development under Colom's successor.

But she has not been immune to the scandals that have hit other campaigns, with prosecutors opening an investigation into alleged illicit campaign financing involving her party. The case has not moved forward because candidates are protected from prosecution, and a judge denied a request to have that lifted for Torres, citing a law that targets violence against women.

Three other candidates were kicked off the ballot amid graft investigations, most notably former Chief Prosecutor Thelma Aldana. She gained international attention for leading anti-corruption investigations in tandem with a U.N. commission. Another candidate was barred from running based on a law that prohibits the election of relatives of former leaders.

Aldana's supporters see her removal as a signal that corrupt elites feared the prospect of her presidency.

Observers, and voters themselves, say the result of the chaotic campaign has been near universal cynicism.

"I don't trust any of them," said Paula Cojolón, a 58-year-old domestic worker.

Among the candidates seeking to make it through to an Aug. 11 runoff are Alejandro Giammattei, a four-time presidential candidate and ex-prisons director; Roberto Arzú, a businessman and son of a former president; Edmond Mulet, a former congressman, ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. official; and Thelma Cabrera, the only indigenous woman in the race, and the lone top five candidate who is not running with a conservative party.

Guatemalans are predominantly concerned about unemployment, violence, corruption, rising costs of living and the shoddy state of the country's highways. Outgoing President Jimmy Morales has not found answers during his four-year administration, and there's plenty of skepticism that anyone on the ballot will do any better.

"If I don't have work, I don't eat. Nobody helps," Cojolón said. "The candidates, no, they all offer things but nobody follows through."

Three of the last four elected presidents — including Colom, Torres' ex-husband — have been arrested post-presidency on charges of corruption. Graft allegations have also targeted President Morales and his inner circle, though he denies wrongdoing and has been protected from prosecution due to his immunity while in office.

A recent poll from CID UpGallup Latinoamerica found that nearly a third of Guatemalan adults surveyed believed that whatever the outcome, it will be the result of fraud, while another 20% said the election's legitimacy would be suspect because so many candidates were kept from running.

"The legitimacy of and confidence in the process has been seriously harmed," political analyst Phillip Chicola said.

The surging migration north from Guatemala and other Central American countries has not emerged as a major campaign issue, despite the attention it's gotten from U.S. President Donald Trump and Mexico, which is under pressure from Washington to stem the flow.

The election Sunday will be the first time that Guatemalans can cast ballots from abroad: At least 60,000 are eligible in Los Angeles, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C., all home to large numbers of Guatemalan emigres.