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July 22, 2017

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Leftist declared winner in Salvador's election

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador--El Salvador's electoral court on Thursday declared leftist candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren the winner of the tight presidential election, making him the first former rebel commander to win the presidency of a nation where 76,000 died in a civil war.

With all the votes counted, the electoral court announced on its website that Sanchez Ceren, candidate of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the FMLN, got 50.1 percent of the votes. Norman Quijano of the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance party, known as ARENA, had 49.9 percent.

With about 3 million ballots cast in Sunday's runoff election, Sanchez Ceren won by less than 7,000 votes, and Quijano's party vowed to appeal the election until a new ballot is held.

ARENA informed its members it had filed a complaint with El Salvador's attorney general, where it is presenting evidence of fraud. So far it has not made any such evidence public.

Outgoing President Mauricio Funes was a journalist who was sympathetic to the FMLN rebels during the 1980-92 civil war but was never a guerrilla, unlike Sanchez Ceren, who most recently served as Funes' vice president.

A campaign comparing El Salvador's left to Venezuela's ruling socialist bloc brought Quijano from far behind in the polls to the near tie. Sanchez Ceren has sought to distance himself from Venezuela's crisis, saying during his campaign: "El Salvador is not and cannot be Venezuela."

He said his role model is Uruguayan President Jose "Pepe" Mujica, who spent 14 years in prison during Uruguay's dictatorship. A flower-farming former guerrilla, Mujica gives away 90 percent of his presidential salary, doesn't have a bank account, drives a 41-year-old Volkswagen and never wears a tie.

"Mujica is the example to follow, because he works on two main fronts: development and social investment," Sanchez Ceren said.

He has promised to maintain good relations with the United States, where hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran migrants live.

Much like Mujica, Sanchez Ceren, 69, favors rolled-up shirt sleeves and usually eschews suits and ties. Close associates call him "Profe," or "Teacher," a reference to his beginnings as a grade-school teacher in a poor rural school.

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