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Outlook dim for Duarte party in Salvador vote

The tall, balding man moves through the crowded marketplace exchanging hugs and touches with the squat women stall-keepers. Jos'e Antonio Morales Ehrlich -- a veteran mayor of San Salvador, a lawyer, and secretary-general of El Salvador's Christian Democratic Party -- is running for mayor of the capital city again.

His campaign is one of the few bright spots expected for President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's party in this Sunday's elections. Christian Democrats are expected to win only about 20 percent of the 262 municipal races -- although their booty is likely to include the nation's three most important cities: Santa Ana, San Miguel, and San Salvador. The party is not expected to win control of the nation's Consitutent Assembly.

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A growing feeling that President Duarte is to blame for the nation's war lingering on -- a feeling rightist candidates exploit -- and the strength of the rightist coalition of the ARENA and National Conciliation parties have taken a toll on support for the Christian Democrats.

On his rounds of pressing the flesh, Mr. Morales Erlich denounces the rightists. He tells residents of the capital, long a Christian Democratic stronghold, that the party has always looked after them.

The central market where he's campaigning today is solidly Christian Democratic. Construction of the giant complex in which he's speaking -- eight cavernous buildings containing more than 5,000 market stalls -- was completed in 1975 during Morales Ehrlich's term as mayor. Planning for the market began during President Duarte's earlier three-term stint as mayor. If Morales Ehrlich wins, he will take the reins of office from Duarte's son, Alejandro.

The Christian Democrats (PDC) publicly claim they will win a majority of Constituent Assembly seats (they now hold 24 of 60), but most observers think they will only gain one or two more at most.

The PDC was founded in 1960 by middle-class professionals, a new social force spawned at the time by El Salvador's industrialization. Its vision was to ``humanize'' capitalism along Christian precepts, and it received important backing from the Roman Catholic Church, with which it agreed there was a need to help the urban poor and to form farm cooperatives. Its members view it as a central party, though internationally it would probably be described as center-right.

The PDC was widely believed to have won presidential elections in 1972 and 1977, but robbed of taking office by fraud.

Frustrated by this, the PDC lost many of its younger, more radical members to Marxist political groups that were starting to organize for guerrilla war. Two of Morales Erlich's own sons are rebel commanders.

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In 1979, after a young officer's coup, the Christian Democrats joined the military in a junta -- a step that remains controversial.

In 1982 elections they were the highest vote-getters, but a coalition of rightists managed to take control of the assembly. Duarte won the presidency last June, but rightists have squelched reformist programs.

But some try to paint a brighter picture, pointing out that the Christian Democrats are trying to negotiate a post-election deal with the generally rightist National Conciliation Party.

Such a deal would be expected to push the Christian Democrats a bit to the right politically -- but could put the ultraright on hold.

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