San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

El Salvador Prepares For First of 2 Polls

SAN SALVADOR – With political caravans and party rallies, El Salvador this week wrapped up its hotly contested legislative and municipal campaign period before the Jan. 18 elections – the first of two elections that this country will hold in three months.

On Sunday, some 4.2 million Salvadorans will go to the polls to vote for 262 mayors, 84 lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly, and 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).

The campaign concluded Jan. 14 with rallies and campaign events in municipalities throughout the country, with vehicles caravaning through the various neighborhoods and communities.

At least 10 political clashes have been reported in the past week, mostly among party organizers who were hanging up campaign propaganda.

The FMLN also denounced that two of its party supporters were killed last week in a remote area in the northern department of Morazán, although the circumstances of the murders were not clear.

The two main political forces competing in the elections are the ruling right-wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) and the leftist, ex-guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN).

In the municipal elections, the main contest is for the capital city of San Salvador, where current Mayor Violeta Menjívar, of the FMLN, is seeking re-election against ARENA challenger Norman Quijano. Menjívar is considered the frontrunner in the elections, according to polls.

Quijano has been trying to make up ground by campaigning hard aboard a new city bus – or “metrobus” – that was brought from Guatemala as an example of the new type of urban transportation he promises to introduce to the capital if elected mayor. Quijano has also campaigned on promises to build new public recreation centers and other basic infrastructure projects.

In the legislative elections, both parties will be fighting for majority control, or 43 seats in the Legislative Assembly. In the 2006 elections, ARENA won 34 seats, while the FMLN won 32.

The FMLN, however, is now considered the favorite in the legislative elections as well as most of the mayoral elections and the upcoming presidential elections, according to polls.

President Tony Saca, in his weekly Sunday radio address, called on Salvadorans to vote, saying “the vote that strengthens democracy strengthens El Salvador.”

The president added that the presence of electoral observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union (EU), among other watchdog groups, demonstrates that “El Salvador is a democratic country where democratic results are respected.”

Saca, for his part, will step down from office June 1 and handover the office to the winner of El Salvador’s March 15 presidential elections.

In the presidential elections, FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes, a former TV presenter, is leading substantially in the polls over ARENA challenger Rodrigo Avila.

ARENA has governed El Salvador since 1992, when the FMLN signed the peace accords ending the country’s civil war.


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