SAN SALVADOR: Presidential elections in two Central American countries yesterday are both referendums on political stagnation, with voters in Costa Rica deciding whether to oust the long-ruling party, and voters in El Salvador deciding whether to bring it back to power.
El Salvador’s ruling leftist party faces an uphill battle to keep the presidency after only one term, with critics saying the government of President Mauricio Funes did little to energize a sluggish economy and reduce gang crime.
In Costa Rica, a ruling conservative party that is battling corruption allegations is being challenged by a charismatic left-leaning congressman. Experts say both of today’s votes will result in runoffs, as neither candidate leading in the polls is likely to get the 50 percent plus one vote needed to declare victory.
In El Salvador, Vice-President Salvador Sanchez had a moderate lead going into the vote in his bid to extend the rule of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the party of former civil war guerrillas that defeated the long-ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, or ARENA, for the first time in 2009. Trailing closely behind is ARENA candidate Norman Quijano, the 67-year-old mayor of San Salvador.
A former television journalist, Funes has won the support of the poorest sectors of Salvadoran society by implementing several social programmes, including giving books, shoes and uniforms to school children, seeds and fertilizers to the poorest farmers and a small pension to the elderly. For Salvadorans, the main issues are a sluggish economy and rampant gang crime in the country of 6 million people.
Under Funes, leaders of El Salvador’s Mara street gangs declared a truce in several cities that yielded mixed results. A poll published on January 15 shows Sanchez, a 69-year-old former guerrilla commander, has 37 percent support, compared to 30 percent for Quijano. Former President Tony Saca is in third place with 21 percent.
In Costa Rica, the ruling National Liberation Party has been beset by infighting and corruption allegations and its presidential candidate, Johnny Araya, now faces three rivals, which experts say could splinter the vote. Araya, who has been the mayor of the capital of San Jose since 2003, must overcome the discontent over high unemployment during President Laura Chinchilla’s government. AP