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People in charge of a polling station wait for voters in Guatemala City on June 25, . Central America's most populous nation, Guatemala, votes for a new president that some hope, but few expect, will finally solve the problems of crushing poverty, violence and corruption.JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Guatemalans voted Sunday to elect a new president and vice president as well as fill all congressional seats and hundreds of local posts after one of the most tumultuous electoral seasons in the Central American nation’s recent history.

Many Guatemalans expressed disappointment with their presidential choices after three opposition candidates were excluded by authorities. A large number of null ballots were expected, and experts said it could depress turnout.

With none of the 22 presidential candidates polling near the required 50 per cent threshold for winning outright, a second round of voting on Aug. 20 between the top two finishers was almost certain.

At the Mixed Urban School No. 2, a combined elementary and middle school in Sumpango, voters began lining up outside its muralled wall an hour before voting began. The town of about 37,000 sits in the mountains less than an hour west of the capital. Voting appeared orderly.

Walter Alfredo Hernandez, a 61-year-old lawyer and notary from Sumpango, was one of the first to vote. He was in and out in about 20 minutes.

He drew a clear line between how he thinks things are going in his town – pretty well – and nationally – a disaster.

Guatemala “is immersed in misfortune, in corruption,” Hernandez said, before going on to list the co-opted institutions, especially in the country’s justice system.

“The citizen wants to lift himself up and he can’t. The rich have our heads,” he said, demonstrating his foot pressing something to the ground. “The powerful, the military officers and the business people, they are the ones who have us on our knees and don’t allow us to develop.”

Marleny Cabrera, a 29-year-old elementary teacher at another school, said she was looking for a change in the direction for the country.

“I believe a less stable emphasis has been given to education and health,” she said. “In my case I’m looking for the good for the children of our community and I came to choose Guatemala’s well-being.”

There were some complications reported early Sunday.

Voting never got under way in San Jose del Golfo in central Guatemala. Locals in the highlands town would not allow the voting centre to open, saying people from outside the municipality had been bused in to vote.

When electoral authorities tried to open a new voting location in the town they were blocked by locals, according to a statement from the Guatemala department election board.

National Police launched tear gas in an attempt to clear the crowd of about 300, which set people running and triggered some rock throwing by locals. There were approximately 100 to 150 police and soldiers and more were arriving.

Later Sunday, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said voting had been cancelled in San Jose del Golfo due to the disturbances. The town’s citizens will be able to vote Aug. 20 during the expected second round of presidential voting, the tribunal said.

The organization Electoral Lookout said the main election-related problems it was aware of across Guatemala concerned issues of alleged busing of voters from outside municipalities, purchased votes and some intimidation toward journalists.

In San Martin Zapotitlan, about 110 miles (177 kilometres) west of Guatemala City, locals also reacted angrily to reports that outsiders had been brought in to vote. Local outlet NotiReu showed images of what it said were a pile of burned ballots.

President Alejandro Giammattei, who could not seek re-election, had said Friday that the elections are “one more sign that we live in a stable democracy, something that is consolidated with periodic, free and participatory elections.”

Accusations from both inside and outside Guatemala that the vote was unfairly skewed to favour the political establishment rose after several outsider candidates were excluded by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the highest authority on the matter.

Among those barred from the ballot was Thelma Cabrera, a leftist and the only Indigenous woman candidate who allegedly didn’t meet requirements to run.

Carlos Pineda, a right-wing populist who was leading in opinion polls, was denied a spot due to alleged irregularities in his nomination. Roberto Arzu, a conservative law-and-order candidate, was barred for allegedly started his campaign too early.

The two leading candidates favoured to advance to a runoff vote were Sandra Torres, who divorced social democratic President Alvaro Colom in 2011 while he was in office, and diplomat Edmond Mulet. Zury Rios Sosa, the daughter of the former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, also was considered a contender.

All three are on the more conservative side of the political spectrum and campaigned promising to install tough security measures like President Nayib Bukele in neighbouring El Salvador and promoting conservative family values.

Torres, making her third try to win the presidency, also promised bags of basic food items for those in need and cuts in taxes on basic foods. Mulet said he would give Guatemalans free medicine and support senior citizens and single mothers.

Rios Sosa campaigned to establish the death penalty, prohibit government posts for those convicted of corruption, protect private property rights and improve the health system.

No leftist party has governed Guatemala in almost 70 years, since two leftist administrations from 1945 to 1954. The second of those was led by President Jacobo Arbenz, who was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup.

The vote comes amid widespread frustration with high crime, poverty and malnutrition – all factors in pushing tens of thousands of Guatemalans to migrate each year. There is also anger over official corruption and government moves against anti-corruption activists.

“What doesn’t allow for free and democratic elections in Guatemala is corruption and impunity,” a former Guatemalan attorney-general, Thelma Aldana, who sought asylum in the United States under the grounds of political persecution, wrote in a Twitter post.

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