On Sunday, El Salvador held its presidential run-off election. With 99 per cent of electoral precincts counted, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the vice-president of the current incumbent, Maurico Funes, and the candidate of the left-leaning Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), has 50.11 per cent of the vote, compared to 49.89 per cent for Norman Noel Quijano, of the right-leaning Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA), the party who had been in power for twenty years between 1989 and 2009.
With only 6,634 votes between the two candidates, the result has hung in the balance for over a day. However, on Monday afternoon, the country’s electoral tribunal announced that Sánchez’s lead is now irreversible, although the electoral authorities have yet to declare Sánchez as the winner. Quijano has also claimed victory and asserted that he will not allow “fraud of the Chavista or Maduro style like in Venezuela.”
In fact, Sánchez, a former guerrilla commander during El Salvador’s bitter civil war (1979-1992) who had overseen a cautious campaign, light on ideology, was initially expected to be the clear winner in the run-off, but Quijano successfully capitalized on unrest in Venezuela and Sánchez’s apparent support for Nicolás Maduro. During the tail end of the run-off campaign, Quijano ran daily TV adverts with coverage of the civil unrest in Venezuela, which portrayed Sánchez as a dangerous and subversive communist, and which raised the specter of Chavista-like nationalizations in El Salvador should Sánchez win.
This tactic, together with his hard-line stance on gang crime, enabled Quijano to recruit moderate conservatives who had previously supported Antonio Saca (the third placed candidate from the first round).
Sánchez’s victory, which will give the FMLN their second consecutive term in power, does not come without problems. The closeness of the result suggests that some type of legal challenge is inevitable, further eroding Sánchez’s already weak electoral mandate. This will most likely force Sánchez to compromise his policy position, thereby angering the more ideological wing of the FMLN. Not to mention the fact that he takes over a country with dizzyingly high levels of poverty and inequality, and with one of the highest murder rates in the world.
*UPDATE: A vote count is now under way in El Salvador, given the closeness of the result and apparent irregularities with 14 ballot boxes.