The leftist and former rebel leader Sánchez Cerén, of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), has won the presidency of El Salvador by no more than 6,364 votes, gaining 50.11 per cent of the March 9 poll. He defeated Norman Quijano of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), whose vote-share was 49.89 per cent. The new President, whose deputy will be Oscar Samuel Ortíz, led the campaign by 18 per cent at one time, but the ARENA team’s adoption of a sustained smear campaign against him saw the lead all but eliminated by election day. The losers repeatedly alleged fraud and even seemed to threaten a military coup; they then demanded that the result be annulled, but the electoral court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support their claim that the election was rigged; international observers and the State Department in Washington have said the elections were free and fair. Mr. Cerén will succeed his FMLN colleague Mauricio Funes on June 1 for a five-year term lasting until June 1, 2019; despite being hated by the country’s political right, he has committed himself to reconciliation and to governing on behalf of all Salvadorans. Yet, collaboration may be impossible after ARENA’s vitriolic attacks on him.

That could have serious consequences, because El Salvador is yet to recover from a terrible civil war which lasted from 1980 to 1992, during which the army, backed by the United States and the landed elite, tried to crush FMLN, who were supported by the majority of the population. The conflict claimed over 80,000 lives and left 12,000 missing, and an amnesty law has left survivors bitter. The Inter-America Court of Human Rights has, however, ruled the amnesty illegal, and imminent Salvadoran Supreme Court rulings may result in charges against former military officers as well as an investigation into the 1981 El Mozote massacre, when the army allegedly killed 800 civilians. The mistrust and suspicion which divide the country are nevertheless worsened by gang violence which accounts for nine murders a day on average. FMLN’s unique and wide programme of social measures includes preventive and rehabilitative justice, but everyday life is still dangerous and insecure. Mr. Cerén will be further constrained by the current total ban on abortion, which the powerful Catholic Church adamantly backs in this conservative society. The fact remains, however, that FMLN has a renewed centre-left mandate like those that voters in other Latin American countries have approved; although the opposition ARENA has a narrow majority in the legislative assembly, Mr. Cerén may now feel more confident in the run-up to next year’s legislative assembly elections.