Guatemala's new president is conservative former top judge

AP News
Posted: Sep 03, 2015 5:17 PM
Guatemala's new president is conservative former top judge

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala's new president had only just occupied the vice president's chair when he was promoted to the country's top spot following the resignation of outgoing President Otto Perez Molina amid a corruption scandal.

But Alejandro Maldonado, who had served only a few months as Guatemala's No. 2 official before Congress swore him in on Thursday, will have a short stay in the presidency as well. He will be replaced on Jan. 14, 2016 when the winner of Sunday's presidential contest is inaugurated.

The 79-year-old conservative former high court justice was chosen from a list that Perez Molina submitted to Congress in May to replace former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who resigned because of the same scandal. She is now behind bars and facing charges.

After assuming the top office, Maldonado immediately asked for all the government's ministers and top officials to offer their resignations.

"I'm going to form a transition government and invite all the social groups that are protesting in the streets to propose young professionals to form the new administration," he said.

Maldonado has served as Guatemala's foreign minister and in ambassadorial posts. He also formerly headed Guatemala's highest court, where he presided over much-debated decisions like the one not to extradite former dictator Efrain Rios Montt.

Rios Montt faced charges in Spain for genocide, torture and terrorism committed at the height of Guatemala's 1960-1996 civil war, and the decision against extradition was hotly criticized.

Maldonado also oversaw the high court's 2011 decision to bar former first lady Sandra Torres' bid to succeed her ex-husband in the presidency. Torres had divorced then-president Alvaro Colom months earlier, but Maldonado said her candidacy still violated a constitutional ban on relatives of the chief executive running for the office.

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Torres is running for president again, but the front-runner this time is Manuel Baldizon, a businessman who lost four years ago to Perez Molina.

Perez Molina appeared in court on Thursday after Congress voted earlier this week to strip him of his immunity from prosecution. Members of Congress were to meet later Thursday to decide whether to accept the president's resignation.

Prosecutor Thelma Aldana has said the ex-president is suspected of illicit association, fraud and receiving bribes in connection with a conspiracy that is believed to have bilked the government out of millions of dollars.

Officials allegedly took bribes in exchange for letting businesses evade import duties through the customs agency. Perez Molina has denied any wrongdoing.