Guatemalans' vote for 'more of the same' - was it fair or a fraud?

The morning after the presidential election here, Carlos, in black slacks and green short-sleeve shirt, is at work in his tiny air conditioner repair shop on a busy section of 10th Avenue.

Outside, crowded, rundown buses belch black smoke and cars whiz along narrow streets.

For the most part, it is business as usual in this capital city. And with the rightist former minister of defense holding a comfortable lead in the vote count , it apparently will be government as usual in Guatemala.

Whether the calm will hold remains to be seen as this story is written. One of the losing candidates, charging ''fraud,'' has threatened ''civil war'' if the final vote results are not counted fairly.

But the message Guatemalan voters in areas outside this capital city appear to have dropped into the ballot boxes is: more of the same. The election took place despite guerrilla threats and with only minor incidents.

In Guatemala City, the former defense minister -- the so-called ''official'' candidate, favored by President Romeo Lucas Garcia and the military -- is running in third place. But overall he appears to be leading by a wide margin.

To those convinced that this man, Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, is the best man to keep the pressure on the guerrillas, his victory would be good news.

But to critics of the government who look at the many allegations of human-rights violations against the military and the security forces, putting General Guevara in the presidential chair is not seen as an improvement.

What kind of president would General Guevara make?

On the sensitive issue of human rights, he has not made clear statements about trying to curb alleged abuses. He has called the war against the guerrillas a ''dirty'' war in which ''errors are committed.'' Minimizing the errors is important, he has said. Guevara has made some general promises about agriculture reforms and social programs.

US President Reagan wants to restore a regular flow of military aid to Guatemala and would like to point to a fair election here as a sign to skeptical members of Congress that this government deserves help. Whether the charges of ''fraud'' floating over the election will reduce the value of the vote in the eyes of these US congressmen remains to be seen.

''It's just too early'' to make an assessment of what the election means, says one US diplomat here.

But this diplomat said he doubted the election was a fraud. The allegations of an unfair election were raised by the apparent second- and third-place finishers and focused on delays in reporting the vote totals.

But this US diplomat said that in some rural provinces, especially those under the threat of guerrilla attack, voting had been centralized in the provinces' capital cities. Voters had to travel to the capitals. In one such capital, the line of voters extended ''from the central plaza to the town limits ,'' according to this US official.

One province asked for a six-hour extension past the midnight closing hour to enable all in the line to vote. And poll-watchers from the various parties were said to be slowing the vote process by challenging the voting credentials of many who cast ballots.

The complaints about the vote came from the National Liberation Movement of presidential candidate Mario Sandoval Alarcon and the Opposition Union (Christian Democratic-National Renovating Party) whose candidate was Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre.

Sandoval is seen to be to the right of Guevara and Maldonado to the left, but in US terms all are to the right of center. A fourth candidate, Gustavo Anzueto Vielman, is also a conservative. Because of the guerrilla insurgency, leftist candidates were virtually excluded from the voting process.

Both parties alleged that the vote results were intentionally being released slowly and in a way to create the impression that Guevara was the easy winner.

But one Christian Democratic official told this reporter several days before the vote that he did not expect to have results before Monday afternoon. Another official said only a few hours after the polls closed to expect an announcement by his party, indicating that complaints were perhaps planned in advance.

A cousin of candidate Sandoval, Antonio Sandoval, said that Mr. Sandoval might launch a protest in the form of a ''civil war'' with some 10,000 to 15,000 in the streets.

Four years ago Sandoval put protesters in the streets after charging fraud in a presidential election in which a candidate from his party lost. But he withdrew that charge.

Mr. Sandoval had promised to crack down hard on the communists. He called Guevara's approach to the guerrilla warfare limited because it was military only.

Mr. Maldonado promised a reform of alleged human-rights abuses and agriculture and other financial and social reforms.

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