March 10 (Bloomberg) -- El Salvador Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren held a lead of 6,634 votes as the country’s election chief said the presidential runoff was too close to call and the opposition claimed fraud.
With 99.9 percent of 3 million votes counted in yesterday’s election, Sanchez Ceren of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front had 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent for Norman Quijano of the Arena party, the electoral tribunal said on its website. Tribunal head Eugenio Chicas said the count was still continuing because the board found “inconsistencies” in 14 precincts.
“It was not possible to determine a clear winner,” Chicas said today at news conference, without specifying when the final vote will be ready.
Quijano, citing Sanchez Ceren’s support for Venezuela’s government in a speech to supporters last night, urged the election tribunal to be “impartial” and called on international observers and the military to defend against fraud.
“We are not going to allow fraud in the style of Chavistas or Maduro in Venezuela,” Quijano, 67, said. His party issued a statement late today asking the Attorney General’s office to monitor the final count, adding that it does not believe the Elections Tribunal to be a “guarantor of the final results, as it has shown its bias in favor of the FMLN throughout the whole process.”
Telephone calls to the Elections Tribunal offices by Bloomberg News seeking comment weren’t answered.
El Salvador’s dollar bonds plunged the most in emerging markets after Sanchez Ceren, a 69-year-old former guerrilla who has called for closer ties with socialist Venezuela, beat analyst forecasts by winning about 49 percent of votes in the first round.
The yield on El Salvador’s dollar bond due 2025 fell 11 basis points, or 0.11 percentage point, to 7.02 percent today.
“Surprisingly, the run-off in El Salvador was very tight, with both candidates declaring victory,” Barclays Plc. analysts Alejandro Arreaza and Alejandro Grisanti wrote in a research report today. “We continue to believe that the space for radicalization, which has been the market’s biggest concern in the event of a Sanchez Ceren victory, is limited.”
Pre-runoff polls last month showed Sanchez Ceren favored to win yesterday’s election over Quijano, a former mayor of the capital city, San Salvador.
“The weak showing is certainly a setback for the more ideological elements of the FMLN,” said Adam Isacson, a security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America. If Sanchez Ceren is declared the winner, he’ll “have to reach across the aisle and work with moderates outside the party,” Isacson said.
Sanchez Ceren is seeking to extend the FMLN’s rule after the party won the presidency for the first time under Mauricio Funes, who wasn’t eligible for re-election. As education minister, Sanchez Ceren instituted free school lunches that included daily glasses of milk for children. About 43 percent of El Salvador’s population lives in poverty, according to the IMF.
“We are going to continue the work we started in 2009,” Sanchez Ceren said on his Twitter account today.
As the runoff campaign wound down this month, Quijano’s Arena party showed television spots highlighting three weeks of civil unrest in Venezuela that have led to daily clashes between opposition groups and government forces that left at least 21 people dead.
El Salvador’s next president will have to confront a failing 2012 truce with street gangs that have made the country of 6.1 million one of the most violent in the world, according to the United Nations. President Funes said this month that his government plans to deploy an additional 5,000 troops to augment 6,500 already on the streets to counter crime.
Quijano has vowed to scrap the government-backed truce, in which gangs agreed to reduce killings in exchange for better prison conditions for their jailed leaders. Sanchez Ceren said in a Jan. 12 presidential debate that he would “promote prevention and education” in the fight against crime, without addressing the truce directly.
The winner takes office on June 1 with a public debt estimated to reach 65 percent of gross domestic product by 2015, according to a Jan. 29 report by Barclays Plc. The International Monetary Fund projects El Salvador’s economy will grow 1.6 percent this year, compared with the 3.2 percent average for Central America. About 17 percent of the country’s GDP is based on workers sending home money from abroad.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Sabo in Panama City at email@example.com