The top commanders of El Salvador’s armed forces said Wednesday they will stay out of a presidential election dispute that pits a conservative candidate against a former leader of the leftist rebels the army fought in a 12-year civil war. Conservative ARENA party candidate Norman Quijano is organizing Venezuela-style protests against preliminary returns from Sunday’s ballot that gave leftist candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren a razor-thin 0.2-percent margin. Quijano claims fraud was committed but he has presented no evidence. Quijano had called on the army to defend against the alleged fraud, but the defense minister, Gen. David Munguia Payes, and the army’s top commanders said at a news conference that they’re staying out of the dispute. “We are committed to respecting the official results that are issued by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” Munguia Payes said. “We repeat that we are committed to strictly respecting the sovereign decision that the people of El Salvador expressed at the ballot box.”
Quijano’s suggestion of military intervention had called up echoes of the country’s 1980-92 war, when 76,000 people died in fighting between the military and leftists rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. After peace accords ended the conflict in 1992, the FMLN turned into a political party and won the presidency in 2009 with a candidate who had not been a rebel fighter.
If his victory is confirmed, Sanchez Ceren would be the first former rebel commander to win the presidency.
Some Salvadorans thought having an ex-rebel as president might make the army uncomfortable, but Munguia Payes said such fears “ignore the level of professionalism that the armed forces have achieved.”
“No type of coup or conspiracy is being planned,” he said. “We are an essentially obedient force, not a decision-making force.”
FMLN leaders had no comment Wednesday. They said earlier they would wait for the final election results to be announced.