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Salvador's Rightist Ruling Party Claims Election Victory : Central America: Arena leader cites legislative and local gains. But he faces runoff for presidency.


SAN SALVADOR — Despite facing a runoff for the presidency, the ruling right-wing party Tuesday claimed an "overwhelming victory" at the legislative and local levels in El Salvador's first elections since the civil war's end.

Presidential candidate Armando Calderon Sol said his party gained a majority in the 84-member National Assembly and won most of the country's mayoralties in Sunday's voting, which was peaceful but plagued by poor organization and irregularities that frustrated thousands of potential voters.

Final results are still not available, but Calderon Sol's Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) party is hoping to consolidate its power with across-the-board wins, while the leftist coalition of opponent Ruben Zamora hopes to gain enough congressional and municipal posts to become a viable opposition force.

"We are going to win a second round, and there our victory will be forceful, massive and totally overwhelming," Calderon Sol said. "It will be a mandate totally and absolutely in favor of Arena."

The former mayor of San Salvador called on Zamora, who heads a coalition that includes the guerrillas who fought the war, to concede and avoid a runoff, which is required if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote. With more than three-quarters of the vote tabulated, Calderon Sol had just over 49%, compared with about 25.6% for Zamora. Nearly half of 2.4 million registered voters did not vote.

Arena officials claimed they won 42 legislative seats and up to 200 of El Salvador's 262 mayoralties. Zamora's coalition disputed those figures. Senior members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) said the left expected to pick up as many as 26 legislative seats, with Arena taking as few as 37 seats. The rest of the legislature would be made up of other centrist, rightist and evangelical parties.

Joaquin Villalobos of the FMLN accused Arena of mounting an "operation of fraud" aimed at invalidating a number of ballots to ensure its majority in the National Assembly.

FMLN leaders did not give a breakdown for municipalities.

Many Salvadorans were unable to vote Sunday because their names had been omitted from voter-registry lists or had been spelled incorrectly. Others could not reach a reduced number of polling stations because of a lack of public transportation. Still others were stranded in slow-moving lines when polls closed.

Zamora said Tuesday that the flaws probably prevented about 300,000 Salvadorans from voting. Both he and Calderon Sol concurred in urging that the difficulties be resolved before the runoff, which would likely be held April 24.

"The second round will be an opportunity for our electoral system to become less exclusive and become an open electoral system, one that permits people to vote, rather than (one that) seems to do a lot to prevent them from voting," Zamora said.

Six voter-registration groups, most with ties to the left, conducted a survey of citizens who were not allowed to vote and presented the results Tuesday. Arnoldo Bernal, a spokesman for the group, said chaos, technical flaws and electoral authorities' lack of will all contributed to preventing more than 300,000 people from voting. "People went to vote massively, and people were excluded massively," he said. "And that suggests technical fraud."

Bernal said teams of volunteers were deployed throughout El Salvador on the day of the vote. As a sample, they recorded the cases of 3,232 people who had valid voter cards but whose names were not on the registry.

The groups, which had been active throughout the year in registration drives, then cross-checked names with microfiche records of the registry. All the names were found, Bernal said, meaning they all appeared in the registry but were missing from the lists that electoral officials supplied on Election Day.

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