Salvadorans Look for Stability From Newly Elected Government
EL Salvador's ruling right and insurgent left are both claiming significant gains in Sunday's runoff presidential election.
But for a country still trying to rebuild after a 12-year civil war, the key question among analysts and citizens is whether the two sides will work together to carry out the final implementation of national peace accords signed two years ago.
Armando Calderon Sol, the presidential candidate of the ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, won 68 percent of the vote. During the first round of voting five weeks earlier, ARENA secured 39 seats in congress, and with support from another right-wing party virtually guaranteed, is assured a working majority. The party also won 206 of the country's 262 mayoralties.
Mr. Calderon Sol's rival, Ruben Zamora, leader of the left-of-center coalition that includes the former guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), took 32 percent in Sunday's voting.
Leftist leaders and analysts say the coalition performed well. Though lacking traditional political experience, the left garnered the second largest number of seats in the Legislative Assembly.
``We've strongly confirmed that the forces we represent are the alternative force in this country,'' Mr. Zamora says. ``We're indispensable if there is to be true governability.''
The elections were regarded as a culminating point of the United Nations-brokered peace accord hammered out during nearly two years of negotiations between the government and the FMLN. The accord was signed in January 1992, bringing an end to a civil war that killed an estimated 75,000 people. Among other things, it calls for a new civilian police force and the abolition of the old National Police, which was severely criticized for its human rights record during the war years.
According to an exit poll conducted by an Argentine polling firm, nearly a third of those who voted for Calderon Sol did so because, more than anything else, they wanted continuity.
``I believe people feel that [President] Cristiani's government, with its successes and its shortcomings, was trustworthy enough that ARENA is capable of continuing to govern at the executive level,''said David Escobar Galindo, a member of the government commission that negotiated peace accords with the FMLN.
But many believe people voted for Calderon Sol out of fear that if the left were to win the country would become destabilized, the rich would take their money out of El Salvador, and the Army would not let Zamora govern.
``I think the greatest success of ARENA's campaign was hiding Calderon Sol,'' says Hector Dada, director of the El Salvador branch of FLASCO, a regional research center. ``When stability becomes the principal value, this can cause people to vote for those who are capable of causing violence and destabilization if they lose, and I think that was ARENA's clear message: If we lose, we're going to destabilize. The left never said that [if it lost] it would take up arms again.''
Much of the concern about Calderon Sol stems from his past.
He held close ties with the late Roberto D'Aubuisson, the founder of ARENA. A United Nations Truth Commission on El Salvador linked D'Aubuisson to rightist death squads, and concluded that he had planned and ordered the murder of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in 1980.
But Jack Spence, head of Hemisphere Initiatives, which has monitored the Salvadoran peace process, defends Calderon Sol.
``I'd have to say that whatever Calderon Sol did 12 years ago in the dark days of ARENA's history, he may change, and in fact I suspect he has changed,'' Professor Spence says. ``I think he's gone out of his way in the last six weeks of the campaign to say publicly ... a number of times that it's a national commitment to comply with the peace accords.''
Calderon Sol held talks with his leftist opponents yesterday to reassert his commitment to the peace accord.
But according to FMLN leader Schafik Handal, who attended the meeting, some ARENA leaders are advising Calderon Sol that he can dispense with the left. ``They're telling him that there's no reason for him to come to any agreements with us,'' he said on election night. ``They're not taking into account that we've just come out of a war and that the country needs to be democratized ... and needs stability precisely so that there can be development.''
On the night of the election, Calderon Sol tried to calm such concerns. ``We are going to govern for all Salvadorans,'' the winner said. ``Our great task and mission will be to consolidate peace and assure political stability and governability.''
The new leader's critics remain skeptical. A few hours after the polls closed, an FMLN member who had served as a volunteer official at a polling place in La Libertad province was murdered on his way home. The group has demanded a full investigation.