Two runoffs in Central America

Presidential elections in Costa Rica and El Salvador, both held yesterday, look to be both heading for a second round. (Check out my preview here.)

El Salvador is the simple one – it’s running very much in line with expectations. You can check out the official results here. With 87.3% of polling places reporting, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, of the incumbent Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN, the onetime leftist guerrilla group), has a commanding lead. He’s on 49.0%, followed by the centre-right’s Norman Quijano on 38.9% and centrist Tony Saca well back on 11.4%.

Because you need 50% to avoid a runoff, it looks as if Sánchez Cerén and Quijano will fight it out again on 9 March. But barring some intervening disaster, there’s no doubt that Sánchez Cerén will be the winner. People just don’t change their minds that much between rounds.

In Costa Rica, however, things are a bit less clear. The count is not as far advanced (76.4%) and the margin between the top two is very small – just over 1%, or about 19,000 votes. But there’s no doubt at all about the next step. There’ll be a runoff on 6 April between the top two candidates: Johnny Araya, of the incumbent National Liberation Party (originally centre-left, but now probably better thought of as centrist), and Luis Guillermo Solís, of the populist Citizens’ Action Party.

The threshold for a runoff in Costa Rica is only 40%, but that doesn’t help because no-one is even close to that. Solís is leading with 30.8%, followed by Araya on 29.6%. Leftist José Maria Villalta is third with 17.1%, ahead of Libertarian Otto Guevara on 11.2%. (Official figures here.)

That’s bad news for the opinion polls, which had consistently put Villalta in the runoff with Araya. And it’s probably also bad news for Araya himself, who would have been reasonably confident about beating Villalta but may have more trouble against the more centrist Solís.

Araya’s party has held the presidency for the last two terms, but in 2006 its margin against the Citizens’ Action Party was only 18,000 votes. Incumbent Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female leader, is said to be particularly unpopular.

Costa Rica (but not El Salvador) is also holding congressional elections; on the strength of the presidential result, no-one will be even close to a majority.

I’ll update later if anything much changes.


UPDATE 12.40am, Central American time

The above link to the Costa Rican Electoral Tribunal no longer works; they seem to have rejigged the website in the middle of counting. To get the results, go here, and click the bottom link for “Gráfico resultados provisionales Presidente y Vicepresidentes”. They’re in Spanish, but “Liberacion National” is National Liberation (Araya) and “Accion Ciudadana” is Citizens’ Action (Solís). The slider bar at the top shows the proportion counted.

Solís is holding onto a narrow (and slightly growing) lead, now about 21,000 votes. But it really only counts for bragging rights. The second round is wide open.

El Salvador is now 99.1% counted, with Sánchez Cerén still tantalisingly short of a first round victory, on 48.9%.


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