Duarte Hails Vote as Mandate for Centrism : With Official Salvadoran Returns Yet to Come, He Claims Support for Peace Talks With Rebels

April 02, 1985|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

SAN SALVADOR — Exulting in its apparent victory in National Assembly elections, President Jose Napoleon Duarte's Christian Democratic Party claimed a new mandate Monday for moderate social reforms and for peace talks with El Salvador's leftist insurgents.

The Christian Democrats' projections, based on unofficial returns from Sunday's nationwide voting, indicate that, for the first time, they have won a majority in the country's 60-member assembly. A dominant coalition of conservatives in the assembly has been blocking Duarte's reform programs since he took office June 1.

The Central Elections Council said Monday that official returns from the elections will not be issued until late this week. But the Christian Democrats released results that they said were computed from copies of the official returns from 85% of the country's ballot boxes, containing 811,702 valid votes. Party poll watchers at each ballot box are entitled to a copy of the official returns.

According to the tally, the Christian Democrats won 53.9% of the vote, the right-wing Arena party 37.5%, and the center-right National Conciliation Party 8%. Several small parties shared the remaining 0.6% of the vote. The Christian Democrats' unofficial computations of the returns from last year's presidential election were within 0.5% of the official results.

Leaders of the seemingly defeated conservative parties made no public comment.

"Right-wing forces have tried to raise obstacles along the entire path that we have laid out as the solution for the country," Duarte said in a news conference Monday. "The people realized this, and that is why they went to vote--to say, 'We believe in the political program of the government of President Duarte, and we give our vote for it to continue forward.' "

He said the elections demonstrated the centrist mood of the people, who he said are "against the right and the left." Duarte said that at an "opportune moment," he will resume the "dialogue" his government started last year with the leftist guerrillas.

But Jose Antonio Morales Ehrlich, secretary general of the Christian Democratic Party, said in a separate news conference Monday that peace does not depend only on the "dialogue."

"What is the foundation for sustaining peace? A new political and social order," Morales said. If the Christian Democrats' program of reforms is put into effect, he added, "I believe that peace can be achieved in this term--two, three years." Duarte's term as president ends in 1988.

Morales said the reforms in land distribution, education, health, local government and the justice system have been hampered by "an assembly whose only objective is to obstruct."

Both Duarte and Morales said the Christian Democrats will react to Sunday's electoral victory by opening the door to cooperation with right-wing parties rather than freezing them out. "The reaction is not one of isolation," Morales said.

Possibility of Backlash

The Christian Democrats' offer to work with the conservatives was interpreted partly as a peacekeeping gesture. Before the elections, some analysts had speculated that right-wing death squads might increase their bloody activities if conservative parties lost their power base in the assembly.

But one foreign observer in San Salvador said that such a backlash is unlikely. "The most likely cause of a right-wing backlash is increased urban terrorism by the left," the observer said.

Roberto D'Aubuisson, leader of the Arena party, has been accused repeatedly of directing death squads in the past but has denied the accusations. D'Aubuisson, who was reelected Sunday to the National Assembly, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Other officials of his party turned down requests for interviews. One of them, Alvarenga Valdivieso, said the party is withholding public comment on the elections until it finishes compiling the results.

"I don't have authorization to give you any information," Valdivieso said at the party headquarters.

Hugo Barrera, a dissident member of Arena who resigned from its board of directors earlier this year, said the results of Sunday's elections could motivate Salvadoran conservative forces to unite in a single party and prepare for the presidential elections of 1988.

Disarray on the Right

Barrera said Arena and other conservative parties did poorly in the elections because of disarray within their organizations and a lack of coordination among them. He accused the Christian Democrats of "taking illegal and illicit advantage" of government resources for their campaign.

Because the Christian Democrats will be not be able to attribute future failures to an assembly controlled by the opposition, Barrera said, they will be under more pressure during the next three years to solve the country's problems. "Now there are no longer any excuses," he said.

At Least 32 Seats

The Christian Democrats said Monday that their projections indicate that they have won at least 32--and probably 33--of the 60 assembly seats. They said that the electoral coalition of Arena and the National Conciliation Party won a total of 25 seats and that the centrist Democratic Action Party and the right-wing Authentic Institutional Salvadoran Party each captured a single seat.

In the last assembly elections, in 1982, the Christian Democrats won 24 seats, while Arena and the National Conciliation Party won a total of 33.

The new assembly will convene May 1.

Sunday's elections were also for local mayors and councils in 262 municipalities. The Christian Democrats said their projections indicate that they will control about 200 municipal governments, including that of San Salvador, the capital.

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