A right-wing businessman who ran on a law-and-order platform with support from former military dictator Gen. Efraim Rios Montt gained overwhelming victory in a highly charged presidential runoff.
Jorge Serrano, a former adviser to Rios Montt, won Sunday's election by a 2-1 margin on promises to curb the nation's rampant crime and political violence and reverse its economic decline."We are not alone. God is with us. He'll help us move ahead," Serrano, an evangelist, told supporters in a victory speech Sunday night.
"Guatemalans will be a family. Guatemalans will get to know each other. Guatemalans will help each other."
When Serrano takes office Jan. 14, it will be Guatemala's first transition from one elected civilian president to another. Serrano, 45, is also the first elected Protestant leader in predominately Roman Catholic Latin America.
With 75 percent of the ballots counted, Serrano was leading newspaper publisher Jorge Carpio Nicolle by 712,088 to 329,000 votes.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Serrano victorious and said the outcome would not be significantly altered by the remaining 25 percent.
About 54 percent of the 3.2 million registered voters cast ballots.
Carpio, 58, had tried to portray Serrano as a right-wing religious fanatic, but the religion issue never seemed to rally much support, and Carpio's associates say the negative campaign hurt the publisher.
"It's sad the campaign got so dirty. It turned people off," said U.S. Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., one of many foreign observers monitoring the election.
But there was no violence on election day in this country blighted by sporadic leftist guerrilla fighting for four decades and widespread human rights abuses.
Serrano, an industrial engineer by training and the U.S.-educated son of a congressman, is a member of the Shadai Evangelical Church, one of several born-again Christian groups gaining ground in the country.
Rios Montt, whose military regime ruled from 1982-83, is a preacher in a different evangelical denomination, the Church of the Word. Rios Montt, condemned internationally for human rights abuses, was a front-runner in the presidential race until the Supreme Court declared him ineligible in October.
Many supporters of Rios Montt's law-and-order platform backed Serrano after he promised clean and frugal government and an end to rampant street crime.
During the first round, Carpio placed first among 12 candidates with 25.72 percent and Serrano, a dark horse, made the runoff with 24.14 percent. Serrano was supported by most other candidates from the first round.
As he cast his ballot, outgoing President Vinicio Cerezo urged people to vote, saying, "Democracy has cost the blood and lives of many Guatemalans."