TV comic-turned-politician Jimmy Morales used his inauguration speech to promise a crackdown on corruption, as he laid out to Guatemalans the core goals of his presidency.

Elected in October 2015 after mass anti-corruption protests swept former president Otto Pérez Molina out of power and into prison, Morales made financial crime the chief target of his inauguration speech on January 14. At a ceremony attended by US Vice President Joe Biden, Morales said that his government “will not tolerate corruption or theft,” adding: “woe to that man who wants to steal the people’s money because we will be swift and severe,” reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The new president promised “drastic” action against corruption officials, but was unclear about exactly how he will go about this and the country’s many other challenges, among them high poverty rates, dramatic social inequality and a declining, but still high, murder rate of 36 per 100,000 inhabitants. He instead spent much of his speech describing the daily challenges of Guatemalans in an appeal to the popular constituency that put him in office.

InSight Crime Analysis

Morales now faces the challenge of pushing ahead swiftly with reforms, building on the popular momentum of last year. A political novice, he will have to build difficult alliances with other parties to push through new anti-corruption measures. His National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional - FCN-Nación) is only the fifth ranked party, with just 11 of 158 seats in Congress.

As Telesur reported, FCO-Nación is also compromised by the alleged involvement of many of its military veteran founders and supporters – including key presidential adviser Edgar Justino Ovalle – in human rights violations during the country’s civil war. An estimated 245,000 people were killed or disappeared during this conflict, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. Ovalle is one of several individuals close to the party who have been directly implicated in some of the worst massacres of the conflict.

The United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG), which investigated the former president, will put pressure on Morales’ administration to bring those identified as perpetrators for these crimes to justice. Any failure to do so will run counter to his popular image and might spark protests.

And as InSight Crime has reported, with FCO-Nación compromised by its military connection, there is a real risk that some of the pernicious military criminal networks which originated in the civil war are left untouched, with Guatemala left in status quo. In this case, public patience for Morales, as with his predecessor, will not last long. It is hard to be optimistic that the extraordinary public demonstrations of last year, that brought down the previous president, will translate into a meaningful progress against organized crime and corruption.