Costa Rica, El Salvador Elections Begin in Close Races

Polls closed in Costa Rica and El Salvador in presidential races that pre-election surveys show will probably require runoffs in March and April.

Early results in Costa Rica are expected at 8 p.m. local (9 p.m. EST). In El Salvador, preliminary results will be available after 10 p.m. local (11 p.m. EST) and final results may be available by 1 a.m. tomorrow, the country’s electoral authority said.

In Costa Rica, former San Jose Mayor Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party and lawmaker Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front party were in a statistical tie at 17.4 percent and 14.4 percent, according to the most recent poll by the University of Costa Rica. A separate survey by CID Gallup showed Araya leading 35.6 percent to 21 percent, below the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid an April 6 runoff.

El Salvador’s race could narrow to ex-San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano of the National Republican Alliance and Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, whose FMLN party is seeking to extend its rule after winning the presidency for the first time in 2009 under Mauricio Funes. Polls are split on which candidate will get the most votes today, with both falling short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round.

El Salvadorans frustrated about crime two years after the Funes’s government backed a gang truce to stem one of the world’s highest homicide rates are boosting the opposition’s chances of retaking the presidency.

Quijano had 35.3 percent support compared with 31.8 percent for Sanchez Ceren and 16 percent for former President Antonio Saca, according to a Jan. 3-5 poll of 1,000 people by Consulta Mitofsky. That poll, which had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, also favors Quijano in a March 9 runoff.

Costa Rican Election

In Costa Rica, Araya may become the first ruling party candidate to face a second round vote since 2002. President Laura Chinchilla’s government faced a series of corruption accusations in 2012 and 2013 which prompted the resignation of her finance and transportation ministers. Chinchilla, who isn’t eligible to run again, wasn’t accused of wrong-doing.

Araya, waiting at a polling station as his wife voted in downtown San Jose this morning, told the Telenoticias television channel that he is seeking a first round victory.

Today’s votes come amid a year of elections in Central America. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was inaugurated on Jan. 27 while Panamanians choose a successor to President Ricardo Martinelli in May.

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