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In Presidential Vote, El Salvador Picks Between Right and Left

Sunday, 02 February 2014 11:42 AM

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — Voters in crime-plagued El Salvador decide Sunday whether to keep the leftist party in power or return to conservative rule.

This small but densely populated Central American country of six million is struggling to control rampant gang violence and still burdened by the legacy of its bitter 1979-1992 civil war.

Under tight security measures by both the police and the army, some 4.9 million voters are called to choose a successor to President Mauricio Funes of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN).

While there are five candidates, two are far ahead in pre-election surveys.

The top contender is Funes's vice president, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a former civil war guerrilla commander who on Sunday promised an inclusive government if he wins.

"We are committed to ensuring transparency" in the election, the ruling party candidate said as he and his wife went to cast ballots at a polling station in the northeast of the capital, promising to respect the results.

If he won, he would be "open to the participation of different sectors" and open the doors to all candidates to work together for "a grand national accord," the 69-year-old added.

His main rival, ex-San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano, 67, of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), was scheduled to vote later Sunday at a school in the west of the city.

Antonio Saca, president from 2004-2009, is running a distant third as the head of a coalition of right-wing parties.

The latest polls predict that Sanchez Ceres, a former teacher, will garner between 38 and 47 percent of votes — not enough to guarantee a first round victory.

If no candidate obtains at least 50 percent of support, the top two will meet again in a runoff scheduled for March 9.

Since the early hours of the morning, supporters of the various candidates have set up stands in their party's colors across the capital.

Overshadowing the electoral campaign are allegations of corruption against ARENA ex-president Francisco Flores (1999-2009).

Congress is investigating Flores over the whereabouts of $10 million donated by Taiwan between 2003 and 2004. Flores was an adviser to the Quijano campaign.

The next president's challenges include a crackdown on gang violence. Known in the region as "maras," the gangs control whole neighborhoods and run drug distribution and extortion rackets.

Homicides were running at 14 per day until a gang truce in March 2012, which helped bring the rate down to seven per day.

Sanchez Ceren is proposing a program that would allow ex-gang members to rejoin society, while Quijano is calling for a tough law-and-order crackdown on crime.

If elected, Sanchez Ceren would be Latin America's third ex-guerrilla president, following in the footsteps of Brazil's Dilma Rousseff and Uruguay's Jose Mujica.

Polls opened Sunday morning and are scheduled to close in the evening, with the first official results expected late Sunday night.

© AFP 2018

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Voters in crime-plagued El Salvador decide Sunday whether to keep the leftist party in power or return to conservative rule.
Sunday, 02 February 2014 11:42 AM
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