El Salvador elects leftist president Funes

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

President-elect of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes
Image: Agência Brasil.

Sunday night, Mauricio Funes of the left-wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party declared victory in El Salvador's 2009 presidential elections. Although El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal has not yet certified a winner, Funes shows an insurmountable lead in the results, besting Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) candidate Rodrigo Ávila by a margin of 51.27% to 48.73%, with 90.68% of votes counted. Ávila conceded defeat, vowing that ARENA would remain vigorous in opposition.

Funes' victory marks a major shift in the politics of the country: ARENA has controlled the presidency of El Salvador since the end of El Salvador's civil war in 1991. The FMLN was founded by Marxist guerrillas who fought in the civil war. When the guerrillas and the government signed a peace agreement in 1992, the FMLN became a political party.

Funes, a former television journalist, is the first FMLN leader not to have been an combatant in the war. In his victory speech in San Salvador Sunday night, he said: "I want to be the real president of the real reconstruction of the country, which starts with the reconstruction of people."

"I want to thank all the people who voted for me and chose that path of hope and change," added Funes.

During the polarizing electoral campaign, Ávila tied the FMLN to communism and said that an FMLN victory would turn El Salvador into a satellite of Hugo Chávez's Venezuela. Discontent with unemployment, gang violence and corruption under the government of ARENA president Antonio "Tony" Saca trumped concerns that the FMLN would return to its radical roots or spoil El Salvador's historically close relationship with the United States.

About 60% of the electorate voted, including thousands who returned to the country from the United States in order to cast ballots.