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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Thu Mar 16 13:03:02 2000
Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 21:58:26 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: POLITICS-EL SALVADOR: Door to Power Opens a Crack Wider for Left
Article: 91376
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Door to Power Opens a Crack Wider for Left

By Maricel Sequeira, IPS, 13 March 2000

SAN JOSE, Mar 13 (IPS) - Sunday's mid-term elections in El Salvador left the door open a bit wider for the leftist Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) in its dispute for the presidency with the governing right-wing National Republican Alliance (ARENA) in the 2004 elections.

According to the latest vote count, the former guerrilla movement won 31 seats in the single-chamber parliament, against the ruling ARENA's 29. This was the first time in its 11 years in power that the rightist party was defeated in legislative and municipal elections.

But that does not mean the FMLN will enjoy a majority in the legislature, because - as opinion polls anticipated - emerging parties grew, and took a combined total of 24 seats in the 84-seat parliament.

The FMLN also won at least 70 of the country's 262 municipal governments, and triumphed once again in the capital, where Mayor Hector Silva was reelected.

The FMLN's supporters rose to the occasion, holding what was reported by observers to be the longest and most massive celebration by the left since the end of the bloody 12-year civil war was announced on Jan 16, 1992.

Political analysts like Francis Hasbun attributed the left's victory to the wear-and-tear of the ruling party, caused by ARENA's policy of privatisations, its failure to negotiate with all social sectors and, above all, its inability to find a solution to the poverty which plagues 50 percent of the population.

"The FMLN did not significantly increase its share in the exit polls, but ARENA definitely dropped," explained Hasbun.

Whatever the case, the results backed up FMLN leader Schafik Handal's statement that "a great shift has taken place among the citizenry of our country."

On Sunday night, amidst thousands of faces painted red and voices chanting "the people, united, will never be defeated!" Handal made the FMLN's goal clear: "...but this is only the beginning, starting tomorrow we will begin working to completely wrest power from the right!"

This was not the first time the FMLN has given ARENA a good fight. In the mid-term elections of 1997, the former guerrilla group won the city government of San Salvador and 40 other cities, while it garnered 27 seats in parliament.

But in last year's presidential elections, the FMLN was unable to patch together a badly divided party and overcome the ideological conflict between "reformist" and "orthodox" tendencies.

After a year of highly conflictive internal conventions, the FMLN ran in the 1999 elections with Facundo Guardado as its presidential candidate. But the party remained split, and the outcome was disastrous and humiliating.

Later, the so-called "orthodox" current - represented by Handal - gained control of the party, without excluding other tendencies.

Hence the importance of the call issued by both Silva and Handal: the FMLN must remain united despite the different currents of thought it encompasses, because it must remain a pluralistic party.

The right-wing newspaper 'Diario de Hoy' stated in its Monday edition that Silva was the face of moderation and change that enabled the FMLN to overcome ARENA in the number of deputies.

"Political intelligence has triumphed. The reelected mayor, despite having proclaimed his pride in being part of the FMLN, in a bold political message that drew the hard-line FMLN vote, won the respect of the Salvadoran right during his term in office," wrote the newspaper.

To a certain extent, the right "has voted differently in the election for mayor and in the legislative election, as a step forward in leaving behind the fears and colours of the past decade," it added.

The reelection of Silva - a doctor - as mayor of San Salvador came as no surprise. Two months before the elections, his approval ratings stood at 85 percent among residents of the capital.

While in office, the mayor addressed a number of pressing concerns. A garbage dump and waste treatment centres were built, as well as other projects that were applauded in a city drowning in its own trash.

He also proposed an agreement between parties to bring about changes that would not be possible without a united stance - for example, coming up with a solution to the urban transport mess; giving downtown San Salvador a facelift; or upgrading the sewerage system.

The right, meanwhile, did not make a good showing. Former president Alfredo Cristiani (1989-94), a member of ARENA, even suggested a restructuring of the party.

But low voter turn-out remains the main enemy of El Salvador's political parties. According to official estimates, turn-out stood at a mere 35 percent. (END/IPS/tra-so/mso/ff/sw/00)

Origin: Montevideo/POLITICS-EL SALVADOR/

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