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Central America's left-wing candidates on the rise

© AFP

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2014-02-03

Left-leaning candidates dominated presidential elections in Central America on Sunday, with polls showing El Salvador’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Costa Rica’s Luis Guillermo Solis poised to claim victory in their respective runoffs.

Left-wing supporters cheered and danced across Central America this weekend, following victories in presidential elections in both El Salvador and Costa Rica.

Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a former guerrilla leader, won 48.9% of votes in the first round of the ballot in El Salvador, just shy of the 50% needed to avoid a second round.

Around 900 km south-east, Luis Guillermo Solis (pictured in main) finished first in Costa Rica's own presidential vote. A left-leaning former diplomat, Solis earned a surprising 30.9% of the vote, edging out the centrist candidate from the ruling government.

Opinion polls suggested both men were well placed to triumph in their respective runoffs in the coming weeks.

Ceren and Solis are just the latest candidates to ride a wave of centre-left sympathy in Latin America, where right-wing parties are struggling to attract voters.

From guerrillero to frontrunner

Sanchez Ceren, 69, was one of the top commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebel army that fought a 12-year civil war against El Salvador's military-led government.

He was a signatory of the peace treaty that ended the bloody armed conflict in 1992 and ushered in the FMLN's transformation into a political party.

The FMLN won the previous presidential elections in 2009, but by running an independent candidate for the top job and Ceren as the vice-presidential nominee.

As not only the country's vice-president, but also its education chief, Ceren has been credited with setting up popular welfare reforms, like offering free school supplies to pupils from the poorest families, over the past five years.

A second round poll on March 9 will pit Ceren against the conservative mayor of the capital San Salvador, Norman Quijano, who has criticised the FMLN for not doing enough to tackle violent crime.

Surprise surge

Solis, 55, was the surprise winner on election night in Costa Rica. A university history professor with experience in the foreign ministry, he became the presidential candidate for his centre-left Citizen Action Party in July. He won almost one-third of all the votes cast on Sunday's election.

He surged late in the campaign by pledging to improve infrastructure, overhaul the country’s universal health care provider and stamp out the kind of corruption that has plagued the ruling National Liberation Party, which took 29% of ballots.

In third place with 17% support was leftist candidate Jose Maria Villalta, whose supporters are now expected to throw their weight behind Solis.

If the former academic wins Costa Rica's runoff on April 6, Paraguay will be the only country between the Rio Grande to Patagonia where a firmly right-wing leader remains in power.

Date created : 2014-02-03

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