SAN SALVADOR (AFP) – Former sports journalist and radio businessman Elías Antonio Saca was elected President of El Salvador Sunday after gaining nearly 60% of the popular vote in what analysts say was an election of “historic” participation.
Saca, of the National Republic Alliance (ARENA), won 57.73% of the votes, while his rival, ex-rebel leader Schafik Handal, won 35.63% of the votes.
“El Salvador spoke in the ballot boxes. The people decided and that was the verdict. There is no hatred nor rancor, it is the moment to ask God for wisdom,” Saca, 39, said Sunday after claiming victory.
ACCORDING to the country’s Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE), nearly 70% of the nation’s 6.5 million people participated in the election – the third since El Salvador’s bloody 12-year civil war ended in 1992.
“We should feel happy for the unofficial voting level; it is a historic record,” said TSE president Sergio Mena.
Handal’s party, the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), initially flatly rejected Saca’s announcement of victory. Handal, 73, later acknowledged the victory as legitimate, but made a point of not congratulating Saca.
“It is certain that the data provided by the TSE gives Elías Antonio Saca the presidency.
We recognize it is that way, but we do not congratulate him,” Handal said during a gathering of his party in San Salvador.
His comments may have ostracized him from other Central American leaders, who congratulated Saca for his victory and the country for holding a successful democratic election.
PANAMA President Mireya Moscoso congratulated Saca and told the Presidentelect she looked forward to “working with you to the end to strengthen the relationship of friendship and cooperation that has united our countries.”
Costa Rica congratulated El Salvador “for an exemplary electoral process,” in a memo sent from the Costa Rican chancellor to the government there.
In the statement, Costa Rica expressed its “profound recognition of the government of El Salvador and, in particular, to President Francisco Flores, for having created the conditions that permitted free and transparent elections to be carried out, in which members of the Salvadoran community could express themselves by means of suffrage.”
Salvadoran police were prepared during the election for any emergency. Armed with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons, they formed a perimeter around TSE headquarters just before the elections concluded, and formed a barricade in front of Saca’s party headquarters, at the Hotel Radisson in San Salvador, after the announcement of his victory.
During the elections, more than 17,000 officers were on duty throughout the country to guarantee order.
IN related news, outgoing Salvadoran President Francisco Flores this week announced he would not run for Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) later this year.
The decision paves the way for former Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002), who is running unopposed, to be named Secretary General next June.
“Even though it caused me great excitement to work for the hemisphere, I’ve put aside my personal desires for El Salvador,” Flores told local reporters during a press conference Wednesday. “I will not run for the OAS. I will dedicate myself up to the last day to consolidating the country’s affairs.”