FMLN takes Salvadoran elections, pledges "peace and reconciliation"
Shortly after El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal issued its second bulletin confirming the FMLN's lead late March 15, president-elect Mauricio Funes addressed the nation, saying that with their vote the people had signed "a new accord on peace and reconciliation"—an invocation of the 1992 agreement that ended the country's long civil war and saw the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) transform from a guerilla army to an electoral party.
"I want to thank all who voted for me, all who defeated fear, all who chose the path of hope," Funes said, pledging that the defeated right-wing ARENA "will be respected and heard" in opposition. "I want to appeal to the other political forces to work toward unity," Funes said—even as he promised to carry out "preferential actions" to benefit the poor.
"I want to be the president of social change and reconstruction," emphasized Funes, a former TV journalist. "It's time to move forward to the future and leave behind the revenges of the past." With 99.4% of the vote counted, the FMLN victory was confirmed by 51.27%, to ARENA's 48.73%.
With the victory of the Salvadoran left, the country breaks with 20 years of the rule by ARENA—which had been preceded by a string of military-backed regimes. Mexico's left-wing daily La Jornada hailed the victory as an "historic triumph" for all Latin America. Nicaragua's Nuevo Diario ran an commentary entitled "Bienvenida la Esperanza" (Welcome the Hope), stating: "The triumph of the FMLN represents the end of the long post-war period, and the consolidation of democracy."
US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the elections were "very free, fair and democratic. I want to specifically congratulate Mauricio Funes as the winner of the presidential election and also his opponent, Rodrígo Avila, for participating in the election and for respecting the election results."
Avila accepted the defeat, telling Salvadorans: "We will be a constructive opposition, an opposition that ensures that our country does not lose its freedoms." On the campaign trail, Avila had portrayed Funes as a dangerous foreign agent of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, and warned that his victory would estrange El Salvador from Washington.
In fact, Funes went to great lengths to reassure the US, even using Barack Obama's "yes we can" campaign slogan. On the eve of the elections, he said he looked forward to building "a relationship of understanding and mutual respect" with Washington. (MRZine, Reuters, AFP, Financial Times, La Jornada, Mexico City, Nuevo Diario, Managua, March 16; VenezuelAnalysis, Caracas, Diario CoLatino, San Salvador, March 13)
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