A second round of presidential elections will likely be held in El Salvador and Costa Rica after none of the candidates received sufficient support from the electorate on Sunday.
Salvador Sanchez of the ruling FMLN gained a plurality of 48.93% of the vote in El Salvador and fell short of the majority required to win yesterday’s election. With 99.3% of the vote counted, the former leftist guerilla turned vice president earned nearly 10% more support than San Salvador’s conservative mayor and second round opponent Norman Quijano.
“If we got the win in the first round, we will triumph in the second,” declared a confident Sanchez in front of a multitude of supporters yesterday. Quijano, meanwhile, declared that his campaign fought a “historic battle” where “a monster wanted to crush us but could not.”
Even though Sanchez and Quijano easily beat out a trio of other candidates, the key to victory in the March 9th runoff could come in the form of Antonio Saca who received 11.4% of the vote in the first round. The former president broke away from Quijano’s ARENA party in 2009 yet it’s unclear which of the two remaining candidates pro-Saca backers will opt for. (Saca in his concession speech didn't provide any hints regarding whom he might support).
In Costa Rica, meanwhile, Luis Guillermo Solís of the center-left Citizen Action Party earned first place with 30.95% of the vote though he was unable to obtain the minimum 40% needed to prevent a runoff on May 8th. Nevertheless, his victory was reportedly a surprise after ruling party candidate Johnny Araya was seen as the favorite and had actually led in early exit polls.
“We will govern for Costa Rica. Not one step backward, only forward,” declared the historian who polls prior to the election indicated that he would end in third or fourth place. “We’re going to win, because we are a people who decided to change,” added the 55-year-old who left the ruling National Liberation Party in 2005.
Araya, whose brother lost in Costa Rica’s first ever runoff for the presidency in 2002, acknowledged that “the electoral results have left no doubt that we still haven’t given enough clear signals to the Costa Rican people that we want responsible change in Costa Rica.”
In the run-up to Sunday’s elections, the main candidates in El Salvador and Costa Rica emphasized several important issues such as the need to improve the economy, combat corruption and reduce poverty. Another vital topic was combating violence though the circumstances differ between both of the Central American states:
(In El Salvador) Mr. Quijano has been critical of a fragile truce brokered between leaders of two gangs in 2012 with the help of a security minister under (current President Mauricio) Funes, and has promised to send the army after gangs. The truce has been credited for a substantial drop in the homicide rate, but extortion and other crimes have continued. More frequent disappearances and the discovery in December of a grave with 24 bodies have led skeptics to wonder if the gangs are simply hiding their victims…
For the first time eligible Salvadorans and Costa Ricans living abroad where able to vole in Sunday’s election though the historic participation of expats was mired by problems. The abstention rate among Costa Ricans abroad was 78.1% according to electoral authorities while some Salvadorans in the U.S. and Canada encountered difficulties when they tried to receive electoral packets from post offices. Nevertheless, for some voters abroad the opportunity to participate in the elections was a source of immense patriotism and pride.
Although Costa Rica is not nearly as violent as Central American nations where drug gangs contest trafficking routes, it is increasingly becoming a transit point, drug crimes are more frequent than they used to be, and high-profile crimes like the murder of a well-known sea turtle conservationist, Jairo Mora, have shocked the country.
“I nearly wept out of emotion. Voting feels like I’m close to my family. It is my right to vote and part of being a Costa Rican,” said one expat who reportedly drove seven hours on icy roads from Detroit to Chicago in order to vote.
Video Source – CCTV America via YouTube
Online Sources – Electoral Tribunals of El Salvador and Costa Rica; Diario La Página El Salvador; Tico Times; Businessweek; La Nacion Costa Rica; New York Times