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Duarte claims victory in more orderly vote for Salvador president

By Chris HedgesSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 8, 1984



San Salvador

Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte has claimed victory in Sunday's runoff presidential election in El Salvador - a vote that produced some charges of electoral fraud, but that was without the level of disorder that marked the first round of voting in March.

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''We have won more than 50 percent of the vote,'' Mr. Duarte told jubilant campaign workers early Monday.

The Christian Democratic candidate, whose election figures proved reliable after the March 25 presidential vote, says he will soon travel to Europe and the United States to consolidate support for his government.

ARENA Party candidate Roberto d'Aubuisson had not conceded the race at time of writing.

Both the Christian Democratic and ARENA parties attribute procedural improvements in the conduct of Sunday's vote to a lower voter turnout and a reorganization by the Central Electoral Commission. Each party, however, charges the other with election irregularities.

''The voting was not as high as last time,'' says Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes, secretary-general of the Christian Democratic Party, ''but the election was much better organized. I don't think the lower turnout hurt us. Our people are the ones who vote twice.''

''We estimate that ARENA managed to syphon off 10 percent of the vote through fraud,'' Mr. Prendes says of the Sunday balloting.

But ARENA levels similar charges against the Christian Democrats:

''We estimate that between 20 and 30 percent of the people who went to the polls this time could not vote,'' says Dr. Armando Calderon Sol, legal representative for ARENA. ''Most of these people were ARENA supporters, which is just as the Central Electoral Commission planned it.''

United States Ambassador to El Salvador Thomas Pickering discounts the charges and countercharges.

''We don't consider any of these complaints to be very serious, and essentially what complaints have been made by the two parties are, I think, self-canceling,'' Ambassador Pickering said.

''There may have been a slight decrease in the number of people who went to the polls,'' he said. ''However, I would still describe the voter turnout as heavy and for this reason consider the elections a success.''

ARENA officials this time, as in March, criticize the composition of voter registration lists. The March 25 vote, involving eight presidential candidates, was widely viewed as a logistical nightmare. Names did not match state identification numbers on many registration lists, and voter lists and ballots failed to appear at some polling places.

ARENA workers Sunday accused Christian Democrats of soliciting votes at polling centers.

The Army also has been accused of interfering in the runoff election, although its leaders pledged to remain neutral before the vote.

Christian Democrats contend that in Jocoro in eastern El Salvador, Army troops ousted civilian officials from polling places and turned administration of the vote over to uniformed soldiers. On the other side of the country in Sonsonate and in central La Paz, troops in civilian clothes arrested Christian Democratic poll workers in an effort to stuff ballot boxes, US Embassy officials say.

A spokesman for the Salvadorean joint chiefs of staff says the charges will be investigated.

Rebels attacked polling centers and burned ballots in at least three towns. Four soldiers were killed in a brief fire fight with guerrillas outside the city of San Miguel. Rebels also fired on a helicopter carrying Ambassador Pickering and other US officials. The helicopter was not hit, although a press helicopter immediately behind the ambassador's was damaged.

Dr. Sol says ARENA is confident that it will win despite alleged irregularities.

The president of the Electoral Commission, Dr. Armando Rodriguez Ecuizabal, denies registration lists were weighted in favor of the Christian Democrats.

''The ARENA charges are false,'' Dr. Ecuizabal says. ''Over 90 percent of everyone who went to the polls voted during this round.''

British observer Lord Chitnes, who visited several towns, says, ''The voting was efficient and orderly in most of the places.'' But he added: ''You do have to make a distinction between the electoral process, which went well, and the context of elections in the society. These elections have yet to prove anything. They could turn out to be irrelevant or important. We must wait and see.''

Another observer, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, chairman of Venezuela's congressional Foreign Affairs Committee, says, he sees the vote as ''a strengthening of the democratic process here.''

''The people have come forward to denounce through this process extremism from the left and ultraright.''