El Salvador Presidential Election Goes to March Runoff

El Salvador Vice President Salvador Sanchez Ceren narrowly missed winning a majority in yesterday’s presidential elections after his party backed a truce with violent street gangs, forcing a runoff vote next month.

With 99.2 percent of precincts counted, Sanchez Ceren had 48.9 percent of the vote compared with 39 percent for former San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano, according to a preliminary tally from the Central American nation’s electoral tribunal. Quijano has vowed to scrap the two-year gang truce after the murder rate rose last year.

“If we got the win in the first round, we will triumph in the second,” Sanchez Ceren, a 69-year-old former Marxist rebel leader, told supporters of his Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in San Salvador yesterday.

Before the election, voters said security was their top concern, two years after President Mauricio Funes backed the truce with street gangs that have made the country the world’s most violent after Honduras, according to the United Nations. Quijano had vowed to stop “tolerating” criminals, while Sanchez Ceren said he would promote prevention and education in fighting crime, without addressing the truce directly.

Both candidates said they would court supporters of former President Antonio Saca, who was in third place with 11.4 percent, ahead of the March 9 vote.

“This day we fought a historic battle,” Quijano said yesterday after polls closed. “A monster wanted to crush us, but could not.”

Murder Rate

According to the government, El Salvador averaged 6.6 murders a day last year after falling to four a day during the first months of the truce, in which the gangs agreed to lower the homicide rate in exchange for better prison conditions for jailed leaders. The rate was as high as 14 per day before the truce.

The country’s dollar bonds rallied after the 2012 truce was put in place, with yields on the 2023 notes falling to a record 4.9 percent in May 2013. Yields have since climbed to about 6.8 percent as economic growth in the $24 billion economy remains flat, reserves decline and the current account deficit widened to about $450 million in the third quarter, the most since at least 1999.

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