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article imageEx-rebel wins El Salvador presidency

By AFP     Mar 13, 2014 in World

Former leftist rebel commander Salvador Sanchez Ceren was declared the winner Thursday of El Salvador's presidential elections by a razor-thin margin.

But the opposition National Republican Alliance (ARENA) charged that Sanchez Ceren's victory in Sunday's run-off election was "illegitimate," setting the stage for an acrimonious dispute.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal said Sanchez Ceren, of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, won 50.11 percent of the vote while ARENA candidate Norman Quijano received 49.98 percent.

"The people, united, will never be defeated," FMLN supporters chanted at the hotel where the tally was held as they awaited the final result.

A victory rally was called for Saturday night in the capital San Salvador.

The tribunal had conducted a manual count of the votes at the request of Quijano, who also had demanded that the results be nullified because of alleged fraud.

ARENA, which has three days to appeal the outcome, remained bitterly unsatisfied after the tribunal announced the final result, which was identical to a preliminary result announced Sunday.

"There is an illegitimate winner of a corrupt process with an overseer of the process that was in charge of covering it up from the start and which enjoys no credibility," ARENA vice president Ernesto Muyshondt said, referring to the tribunal.

Sanchez Ceren, 69, had been favored to win the run-off by as many as 10 percentage points, so the tight margin came as a big surprise to many.

Activists celebrate after the electoral authority finished the final vote count declaring the Farabu...
Activists celebrate after the electoral authority finished the final vote count declaring the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front winner of the presidential run-off in San Salvador, on March 13, 2014
Jose Cabezas, AFP

He served as vice president under President Mauricio Funes, who came to office in 2009 at the head of El Salvador's first leftist government, ending two decades of right-wing rule.

Sanchez Ceren was one of five top guerrilla commanders during the 1979 to 1992 civil war, and the first to be elected president.

The FMLN and ARENA were the main protagonists of that conflict.

After the rebels laid down their arms, the FMLN became a legal political party.

Quijano, 67, the mayor of the capital city San Salvador, was a law-and-order candidate and staunch anti-communist who campaigned against the country's high crime rate and the notorious "mara" street gangs behind much of El Salvador's drug dealing and extortion.

Quijano, however, suffered from his links to ex-president Francisco Flores, a former campaign adviser, under scrutiny over $10 million donated by Taiwan that went missing during his 1999 to 2004 government.

After the civil war, El Salvador found itself facing violence from street gangs, which control whole neighborhoods and run drug distribution and extortion rackets.

Forty percent of El Salvador's six million people live in poverty, and the country relies heavily on remittances sent by Salvadorans living abroad -- around $4 billion a year, or 16 percent of the country's GDP.

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