Date: Sat, 13 Mar 1999 19:07:54 -0600 (CST)
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Arena Wins, FMLN Fails, Many Abstain
By Laura Vargas, IPS, 8 March 1999
SAN SALVADOR, Mar 8 (IPS) - The presidential elections in El Salvador Sunday followed pre-election forecasts, with the governing Arena returned to office, falling support for the FMLN and high levels of abstention.
FMLN candidate - former guerrilla leader Facundo Guardado - was soundly beaten by his ideological and social opposite, Arena's Francisco Flores, a former university lecturer.
The preliminary count in the Supreme Court of Election (TSE) released early Monday morning gave 587,391 to the right wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (Arena) and 327,879 to the left-wing Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN), allied to the Social Christian Union (USC).
Arena was originally founded by the late Colonel Roberto D'Abuisson - a right-winger linked to the death squads that plagued El Salvador in the eighties - while the FMLN arose from peasant and guerrilla groups which united to fight the army.
Sunday's elections also confirmed the rise of the United Democratic Centre (CDU), backing former FMLN leader Ruben Zamora, becoming a third political force in El Salvador, only two months after its foundation.
Miguel Guirola, TSE underdirector of computing, told IPS the results are unofficial as yet, and that an official recount would be made on Monday afternoon.
However, he explained that, if the tendency is confirmed, Arena will have won the elections with 51.98 percent of the real vote, whereby a second round will not be necessary.
The official recount ended early in the morning with 95.46 percent of votes scrutinised. The FMLN-USC coalition had 29.02 percent and the CDU 7.44.
As was to be expected given the polls and the cool political atmosphere which reigned in El Salvador during the four months of run up to the elections, abstention ran very high, at nearly 70 percent.
However, it is difficult to calculate just how many stayed away, for while the electoral role has 3.2 million registered voters, around 900,000 are dead or out of the country.
The dead have not been removed from the list because "legally they cannot be taken off. The problem is we have not technically located which are the dead individuals amongst many people of the same name," Feliz Ulloa, a TSE magistrate explained. A new census would be needed to resolve the situation.
The University Institute of Public Opinion, in the Jesuit Central American University, stated Sunday night that only between 35 and 40 percent of all Salvadorans registered in the electoral roll actually turned out to vote.
And while Arena candidate, Flores, was already claiming triumph on Sunday, his rival, Guardado refused to accept defeat, claiming there could be a second round.
Conservative daily 'Diario de Hoy' stated Arena's triumph showed the party had reacted rapidly following the 1997 municipal and legislative elections to avoid electoral disaster.
In 1997, the FMLN took almost half the posts in Congress and government of major cities - including San Salvador - from Arena.
This result had led to forecasts of a triumph by the former guerrilla movement Sunday.
However, according to 'Diario de Hoy,' Arena pulled no punches this time, starting its election campaign a year ahead of voting day.
The ruling party managed to overcome internal struggles, presenting a public image of order from April 1998.
A second factor considered by Diario de Hoy was the amount of money invested by Arena in polishing up Flores' image.
Although in El Salvador party accounts are secret, some organisations consider Arena invested nearly 20 million dollars in the campaign, while the other organisations invested a million dollars each.
The FMLN, meanwhile, suffered internal conflict toward the end of 1998 between orthodox members and reformers trying to maintain an image of a democratic party choosing its representatives by an internal convention.
But far from strengthening the party, the internal convention tore the party apart and Facundo Guardado had very little support with which to face the challenge of the elections.
According to sources within the FMLN, only 60 percent of the militants worked in favour of Guardado's candidacy, which goes some way toward explain his defeat.
In March and April 1998, the polls stated the former guerrillas were neck and neck with Arena.
"If now, before the campaign has even started, we are on an equal footing, there's no doubt we will win," said Guardado, then coordinator general of the party.
But by the end of the campaign, Arena had a lead of more than 20 points in the polls - the same advantage shown in the election results. (END/IPS/tra-so/mso/sm/99)
Origin: Montevideo/ELECTIONS-EL SALVADOR/
[c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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