Rightists Lead in Salvadoran Vote Early Results Point to a Runoff; Leftist Party Leaders Allege Official Ballot Fraud. FIRST ELECTIONS SINCE CIVIL WAR

Article excerpt

ROUND ONE in El Salvador's presidential elections on Sunday went to the ruling conservative party.

But the failure of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) to vanquish a leftist coalition in the first elections since the end of a bloody 12-year civil war will send Salvadorans back to the polls for a runoff next month.

With 63 percent of the vote counted, preliminary results show ARENA coming up just short of the 51 percent of the vote needed to win the presidency outright. The three-party leftist coalition, which includes the former guerrilla group, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), is in second place with 27 percent. The center-left Christian Democratic Party, which ruled from 1984-88, is in third with about 15 percent of the vote.

The FMLN and its allies angrily accused the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the government agency managing the elections, of permitting "massive" fraud.

"Conservatively, more than 10 percent of the voters couldn't vote simply because of errors {in the voter roll} by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal," says Ruben Zamora, the leftist coalition presidential candidate. "This has to be corrected in the second round."

Anomalies witnessed by journalists and about 3,000 foreign observers included voters whose names should have been registered but were not; people told that others had voted using their names; and voters told that their credentials were invalid.

In all, FMLN officials claimed about 300,000 of the 2.7 million eligible voters were unable to vote. They blamed the lower-than-expected voter turnout (about 45 percent abstention) on foul-ups by the electoral agency. The FMLN also claimed a United Nations mission representative and a coalition party electoral technician were illegally expelled from the electoral computer center.

UN officials downplayed the election "irregularities" as typical bureaucratic mixups that would not affect the election's outcome. In addition to the presidency, Salvadorans voted on the entire national legislature - 82 members - and all 262 municipal councils.

Preliminary results show ARENA winning the mayoralty of San Salvador. But it appears the FMLN will win some mayoralties outside the capital and a strong voice in the legislature.

In coming days, the two leading parties will court the six other parties who participated in the election. …

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