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El Salvador - 2019 Presidential Election

Since the end of its bloody civil war in 1992, El Salvador has been governed by just two parties: ruling leftists the FMLN, and its rival, the ARENA. With the FMLN in control of the executive and ARENA and other right-leaning parties in control of the legislature, political gridlock that has limited policy formation in recent years will persist at least through the 2019 presidential vote. While the FMLN and ARENA were able to compromise to reach an agreement on pension reform in 2017, major legislation had been lacking since.

Corruption scandal weighed on ARENA's presidential campaign. The party ran businessman Carloa Calleja in the 03 February 2019 presidential election on a coalition ticket with two smaller right-leaning parties, Partido de Conciliacion Nacional (PCN) and Partido Democrata Cristiano (PDC). After gaining seats in the Legislative Assembly at the expense of the ruling leftist Farabundo Marti para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN) in the March 2018 election, ARENA emerged as an early favourite to win the presidency in 2019.

However, with six months to go before the February vote, a money laundering scandal surrounding former President Saca (2004-2009) threatened to undermine the party's bid. Saca plead guilty on 07 August 2018 to charges of embezzlement and money laundering, with some of the funds allegedly going to ARENA. On August 13, Walter Araujo, who was one of the founders of ARENA but broke with the party in 2013, called for the the national electoral authorities (TSE) to cancel the party. ARENA since attempted to distance itself from Saca and called for an investigation into the party's finances in order to clear itself from accusations of wrongdoing.

Other major parties not immune from the fallout, as Saca had also been affiliated with Gana and FMLN over his multi-decade political career. Saca ran under a coalition that included Gana in his unsuccessful 2013 presidential campaign and has links to former President Mauricios Funes, who served from 2009 to 2014 as a member of the FMLN. Funes had also been accused of alleged wrongdoing while in office and is living under political asylum in Nicaragua.

The popular former mayor of San Salvador led in early polling, drawing 51.1% of the vote in May 2018. Bukele secured the nomination of Gana, after deciding to seek its nomination after his previous choice, the Cambio Democratico (CD), lost its legal status. While Bukele is now on a Gana ticket, the former FMLN member is largely viewed as an independent or leftist by the electorate. The alliance between the right-of-centre Gana and the left-leaning Bukele raised questions about the feasibility of governance should the presidential bid be successful.

Salvadorans started voting in the first round of a presidential election to choose the successor to President Salvador Sanchez Ceren who will leave office on 01 June 2019. The elections were supposed to begin at 7:00 am local time with polls closing at 5:00 pm; however, due to delays many voting centers did not open their doors till 8:00 am local time. This resulted in many voters leaving without voting as they had to go to work. Nidia Diaz, a legislator from leftist FMLN party criticized the delay saying that the right to vote should be guaranteed to all citizens. More than 5.2 million voters are expected to vote in the 1,595 voting centers throughout the country.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of Sunday's vote, two candidates will pass into a runoff to be held on 10 March 2019 The main candidates are Hugo Martinez, from the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN); Carlos Calleja from the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA); frontrunner Nayib Bukele from the Great Alliance for National Unity (GANA) and Josue Alvarado from the VAMOS party.

The two parties that have ruled El Salvador for the past 30 years could lose their grip on power. Pollster Mitofsky said in a January poll that Bukele had 57 percent of voter support, while a poll by Gallup showed him with 42 percent. Both polls show ARENAs Carlos Calleja in second place. Nayib Bukele, 37, capitalized on the anti-establishment feeling sweeping elections across the region and further afield, as voters seek an alternative to traditional parties. Though he describes himself as from the left, and was expelled from the FMLN, Bukele has formed a coalition with parties including a right-wing one who together have 11 seats in the legislature. Bukele may not have an easy time implementing changes because his GANA party is unlikely to have a majority in Congress.

Presidential candidate Nayib Bukele from the Great Alliance for National Unity (GANA) won the presidency of El Salvador with 53.1% of the vote while Hugo Martinez, from the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), was supported by 14% of the voters, according to electoral authorities. Carlos Calleja from the far right ARENA party came in second place with 31.8% of the vote.

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