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EL SALVADOR
A swing to the left?
2/12/2009
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FMLN candidate leads in polls ahead of March 15 presidential elections.

The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front is posing a serious challenge to its longtime arch-rival, the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA party, in March 15 elections.

The Democratic Christian Party dropped out of the race in early February for a lack of funding, while other challenger, the National Conciliation Party, withdrew its candidates for allegedly meeting secretly with the FMLN, paving the way for a faceoff between the larger leftist and conservative parties.

The FMLN ticket is led by presidential candidate journalist Mauricio Funes and his running mate Salvador Sánchez Cerén. ARENA is running former police chief Rodrigo Ávila as its presidential candidate and economist Arturo Zablah.

According to recent polls, Funes has 32-percent support, followed by 26 percent for Ávila, although 28 percent is still undecided. Both organizations are fighting for the votes of the two smaller parties that withdrew.

The FMLN strengthened its support during the Jan. 18 local and legislative elections, winning 42 percent of all votes, over 38 percent for ARENA. While it lost the San Salvador mayoral race, the FMLN picked up 35 deputies´ seats out of 84, as well as sweeping victories in municipal elections. ARENA trails with 32 seats in Congress, while the National Conciliation Party holds 11 seats, the Democratic Christian Party has five, and small party Democratic Change has just one seat.

ARENA, which has ruled the country since 1989, has launched a fear campaign to sway voters not to vote for the FMLN, alleging that the party is communist, a tactic it used in 1994.

Current President Elías Antonio Saca said he will “defend” what “cost us so much to build,” while former President Armando Calderón Sol (1994-99) said that an FMLN victory would cause “chaos, fear and a lack of confidence.”

Funes, for his part, called for a political alliance to defeat the conservative ARENA.

A runoff within a month of the vote will be held if neither candidate wins a simple majority of the votes. The president will serve a five-year term.
—Latinamerica Press.


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