Low turnout likely for Salvadoran elections

Sunday, March 16, 2003

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Salvadorans were once so passionate about their leaders that they braved gunfire to vote, but after years of economic despair and disappointment, turnout was expected to reach new lows in elections this weekend.

Recent polls indicate that voter turnout will be about 40 percent for the congressional and municipal elections today.

The campaign has been plagued by violence, including the fatal shootings of several political activists. The latest was Wednesday night, when FMLN activist Lilian del Carmen Valencia was killed.

shortly after attending a campaign rally.

Rosa Chavez, who often criticized the military governments, said "there is a crisis of political parties and a lack of credibility."

Ana Guadalupe Martinez, a former guerrilla commander who bolted the FMLN two years after peace talks, told The Associated Press that voters are now questioning both political parties.

Martinez said the FMLN lost a big opportunity after the war because it was not flexible enough.

"Those of us who did not come from the ranks of the Communist Party saw the peace treaty as a great victory -- the defeat of the dictatorship and the opportunity to have pluralistic participation, a different country without an authoritarian government," she said.

ARENA is seen as a party run by private businessmen who lack a sense of the country's social problems.

"The country has businessmen, not politicians," said Rosas Chavez.

There are 262 municipalities and 84 congressional seats in dispute today, and ARENA and the FMLN are seen as the top two parties.

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