SAN SALVADOR: El Salvador’s right-wing opposition party held an early lead on Monday in legislative and municipal elections, in a poll considered a test of strength for leftist President Salvador Sanchez Ceren in his final year of office.
Police and soldiers were deployed across the Central American country to provide security for Sunday’s vote, the ninth since a 1992 peace accord ended a bloody 12-year civil war.
About 5.1 million voters were eligible to take part, but turnout appeared low—something an electoral official described as “normal” for legislative and municipal polls, for which turnout has never topped 50 percent.
With 48.1 percent of the total votes counted, the right-wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) opposition held the initial lead in the early hours of Monday, with a tally of 408,031 ballots, according to the Latin American nation’s Electoral Tribunal.
The preliminary results showed the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Movement (FMLN) in second with 244,329 votes.
The two parties were deadly opponents during the civil war, with guerrilla groups under the banner of the FMLN fighting against a succession of US-backed governments. ARENA was co-founded in 1981 by Roberto D’Aubuisson, a soldier linked to right-wing death squads.
Leftist President Sanchez Ceren had warned Sunday that an announcement of the final outcome could take time.
“The process is a bit complicated. And results are not going to be immediate. We’ll just have to wait a bit,” the president said.
At stake are all 84 seats in the single-chamber Congress as well as mayoralties and council seats in the tiny country’s 262 municipalities.
‘Future at stake’
The elections will give a measure of Sanchez Ceren’s strength at a time when the country has been battered by violent crime.
“There are many deputies who are up for re-election who have done nothing for the country. That’s why you have to think hard (about who to vote for). Our future is at stake,” said Idalia Hernandez, a university student.
After a three-month campaign, the faces of the candidates were everywhere, their pictures hanging from light posts in towns throughout the country.
The new elected officials will take up their positions on May 1.
In the current Congress, ARENA has a slight majority, with 35 seats to the FMLN’s 31. Three other parties hold 18 seats.
That has forced Sanchez Ceren to negotiate to pass legislation.
He has succeeded in getting the Congress to fund certain popular social programs like free lunches and school supplies for public school students.
But ARENA has blocked borrowing sought by the government for public works programs and forced cuts in spending in the 2018 budget.