As Guatemala picks next leader, protests that ousted president have vanished but not the anger

A TV comic holds a commanding lead in in Sunday's presidential election in Guatemala, where public anger at corruption unseated the last government and will confront the winner with immediate demands for deep reform.

In Sunday's runoff, comedian Jimmy Morales, who boasted of his outsider status on the campaign trail, faces former first lady Sandra Torres, a businesswoman and longtime political operative

An opinion poll released Wednesday gave the advantage to Morales with 67 percent voter preference, compared with 32 percent for Torres. The survey published by the newspaper Prensa Libre was conducted Oct. 9-14 by ProDatos O and had a margin of error of three percentage points.

If that trend bears out, it would be a continuation of the citizens' revolt that made Morales the surprise top vote-getter in the election's Sept. 6 opening round.

"The new government will have a year before the people fill the plazas, streets, avenues and highways in social protest," Alejandro Maldonado, who took over as interim president after Otto Perez Molina was jailed on corruption charges, said during a recent speech to business executives.

The protests began in April after a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal involving bribery at the customs agency was unveiled by Guatemalan prosecutors and a U.N. commission that is investigating criminal networks in the country.

Investigators first targeted former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose personal secretary was named as the alleged ringleader of the scheme, and then Perez Molina.

Morales and Torres have jockeyed to position themselves as the anti-corruption candidate.

Both promise to keep Attorney General Thelma Aldana, a key figure in the investigation, and the U.N. commission in place. Morales vows to strengthen controls and transparency, while Torres would ask the U.N. body for help conducting a government-wide audit.

"From the get-go we must combat corruption at its core," Torres told The Associated Press, offering the "testimony of a life's work."

"You can't talk about transparency if you're not transparent," she said.

Morales said in a debate this week that the government has controls and auditing powers at its disposal. "All the elements for auditing available to the presidency and vice presidency are going to be put to work," he said.

But many are skeptical that either candidate will truly work to root out entrenched corruption and find honest public servants to form a government.

"I've seen the forums and debates and I'm not convinced," said Oneida de Bertrand, a homemaker who took part in the protests. "They say what we all know about how the country is, but when it comes time to make proposals they don't say how."