Guatemala's presidential frontrunner thrown off ballot, promises appeal

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - With barely a month to go before Guatemalan voters go to the polls to pick a new president, a judge suspended the candidacy of frontrunner Carlos Pineda on Friday, in a ruling swiftly denounced as undemocratic by the businessman outsider.

Pineda pledged to appeal the ruling to the country's constitutional court, the top judicial authority in Central America's most populous country, but with only about a week before official ballots are set to be printed.

"We're in a dictatorship," Pineda thundered in a video posted to his Twitter account.

He accused the court of kicking him off the ballot because he refused to be an "ally of corruption."

The shock court ruling, described as temporary, follows several other candidate suspensions, as critics allege that outgoing conservative President Alejandro Giammattei and his allies are seeking to impose their own preferences on the race.

The court ruled that the 50-year-old Pineda, candidate of the conservative Prosperidad Ciudadana (PC) party, could not participate in the elections due to noncompliance with rules governing the nomination process, such as the failure to collect signatures from party delegates and file a required financial report.

In a recent poll, Pineda led all candidates with 23% support, emerging as the favorite to replace Giammattei. Critics accuse Giammattei of unprecedented repression of judges, prosecutors, journalists and activists, many of whom have fled the country.

The court's decision to remove the frontrunner from the looming contest followed a request from legislative candidate Jorge Baldizon, representing the CAMBIO party, who accused Pineda of not complying with the nomination rules.

Pineda had been a CAMBIO party presidential candidate before switching to PC earlier this year, due to clashes with the Baldizon family.

Other presidential hopefuls, leftist Thelma Cabrera and conservative Roberto Arzu, were previously forced out of the race. Both argued that ending their candidacies constituted a violation of fundamental democratic rights.

(Reporting by Sofia Mench; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Jacqueline Wong)