Sept. 11 - With spiraling violence and drug cartels threatening to destabilise Guatemala's national elections, international observers converge on the Latin American country. Travis Brecher reports.
An estimated 7 million Guatemalans are expected to turn out for Monday's presidential vote - the culmination of a bloody election campaign that has left dozens dead. The lead up to the presidential poll has been beset by allegations that criminal organizations are funding aspiring politicians. And amid growing fears that drug gangs could derail the country's most important political event of the year, some 12,000 election observers have amassed on the Central American nation. They're here to make sure the vote doesn't stray from the law. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) DIRECTOR OF THE SUPREME ELECTION TRIBUNAL, JULIO SOLORZANO, SAYING: "The international community can monitor the vote to give Guatemalans certainty that the electoral process will be executed within the boundaries of the law." Election officials fear the region's multi-billion dollar drug industry sees this year's vote as a new way to extend its power. Gaining political control over towns in key smuggling areas would allow drug gangs to more easily transport Colombian cocaine through Guatemala on its way to the United States. Presidential frontrunner for the Patriotic Party Otto Perez has promised to fight spiraling crime with an "iron fist". (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FOR THE PATRIOTIC PARTY, OTTO PEREZ, SAYING: "Tomorrow will be a special day for us that we have been working very hard towards, for all Guatemalans really because we are at a very important stage. For us tomorrow is very important too because of the decision Guatemalans will make. We are feeling motivated by this decision and we are confident that Guatemalans have shown us over the duration of the campaign, and over the last few years, that they want change, and tomorrow is the opportunity to make that change a reality." If Perez does not secure a 50 percent plus one vote in the first round, a run-off between the top two candidates will be held on November 6. But as death threats against candidates and poll monitors are commonplace, some Latin American analysts point out that politics in Guatemala is an unpredictable affair. Travis Brecher, Reuters.