New Salvadoran leader promises broad-based government
March 8, 1999
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (CNN) -- Francisco Flores of El Salvador's governing rightist party won an overwhelming victory in El Salvador's presidential elections and immediately pledged Monday to form a broad-based government.
Preliminary official figures gave Flores and his Republican National Alliance (ARENA) about 52 percent of the vote in Sunday's election -- enough to avoid a runoff against the No. 2 finisher, Facundo Guardado of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
In comments to radio stations Monday, Flores promised "to form a Cabinet of the widest range possible," though it was not clear whether that meant members of the leftist opposition would be included.
Flores, who starts his five-year term on June 1, said he would name a commission to help him select Cabinet ministers. He also promised "a frontal attack" on the country's crime problem, as well as increased attention to education and agriculture.
Flores ran a media-heavy, non-confrontational campaign that largely avoided the traditional mudslinging of Salvadoran politics.
The election result was a heavy blow to the Front, a former guerrilla coalition that became a political party after the peace treaty. Known by its Spanish acronym, FMLN, it received about 29 percent of the vote. Only two years ago, it won the election for San Salvador mayor and nearly equaled ARENA's seats in Congress.
Guardado blamed the loss in part on competition from another former guerrilla, Ruben Zamora, who took about 7 percent of the vote, as well as "those who control the telecommunications, the economic power" that financed Flores' costly campaign.
He said Flores was merely "a new face" of "those who always have exploited the country."
Flores, 39, is part of a new political generation that had little direct role in the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992 and cost 70,000 lives. He succeeds businessman Armando Calderon Sol as president.
He ran on a platform focused on creating jobs, battling crime and poverty and preserving the environment for future generations, a program to be accomplished in part through reforms of the National Police and judiciary and decentralization of government decision-making.
While even ARENA's critics laud Flores' intentions, some believe he does not have the power base within the party to bring about true reform.
Others say the country's fledgling democracy is threatened by pervasive disillusionment with the political process, reflected in Sunday's dismally low, 35 percent turnout.
Analysts say such voter apathy reflects doubts about whether El Salvador's crime and poverty can be handled by politicians.
"This voter indifference is a threat to democracy, because the lack of credibility of the established parties could open the way for emergence of an authoritarian ruler," Miguel Cruz, director of the Central American University's public opinion center, said.
Still, many observers said the elections proved that democracy has taken hold and that the extremes of both right and left have moved toward the center.
The FMLN swapped bullets for ballots in its efforts to unseat ARENA, transforming itself from rebel army to a center-left political party after laying down its guns under the 1992 U.N. brokered peace accords.
During 10 years in power, ARENA remade itself from a hard-line party into a pro-business, conservative force.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, who plans to visit El Salvador as part of a four-nation Central American tour, is likely to pay tribute to the country's progress from war to democracy.
Flores said the U.S. president's visit one day after El Salvador's elections would "send the world a message that this is a new country," where democracy has replaced tyranny and armed insurrection.
CNN's Brian Yasui and Reuters contributed to this report.
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