San Salvador: euphoria over polling gives way to unease

The staccato gunfire from scattered guerrilla shootouts with government troops that kept this city on edge at election time has given way to the backfiring of blue and white city buses grinding their way through the crowded streets.

A semblance of normality has returned to this hot, steamy city of 600,000 people. But the initial euphoria of having made a massive democratic appeal for an end to violence here has been replaced by a sense of unease.

''I just hope these elections will have changed things, not take us back to where we were before,'' said a businessman moving through the crowd. ''I'll give it two weeks to a month. If nothing happens, who knows. . . ?''

The peak of terrorism seems to have passed with Sunday's election - at least for the moment. Salvadorans, however, are looking over their shoulders and holding their breath. They know the guerrillas have not gone away, and the successful election turnout has led to a political tug of war as to who will lead the country.

Although Christian Democratic leader and national President Jose Napoleon Duarte won a plurality of votes in the March 28 polling, the strong showing of Roberto d'Aubuisson's right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) and the latter's attempts to form a coalition with the four remaining parties that participated in the election may leave the Christian Democrats in a position of a minority opposition party.

This intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering and the prospect of the country entering a new period of political uncertainty have many Salvadorans worried.

''We live in times of uncertain danger.'' This is how one woman selling soft drinks and sundries in a lower-class barrio of the capital described the current mood of the country.

''All I want is peace and the beautiful things in life,'' said a man standing in front of piles of dried fish in the covered central market. ''My family is very important to me, and my vote was for peace. I don't want to say anything about what happens now; all we can do is hope.''

An elderly woman selling cloth dolls sighed and said: ''We work too hard to keep going. We've had enough of politics, we just want to live our lives. Enough!''

The outward appearance of the city, however, is business as usual. Women and small children look out from doorways of pastel pink, green, and turquoise stucco buildings. Vendors standing in the shade of leafy trees sell watermelon slices and fruit drinks.

In the bustling downtown business district, a mass of humanity flows along the hot sidewalks. Shoeshine boys and vendors selling everything from plastic sunglasses to cassette tapes vie for business.

Carrying green rifles, cadets from the military school stand around the main square keeping a careful watch on the crowd. One block away a huge black barrier blocks the road. Large fluorescent green and orange letters warn everyone of a military zone.

In the upper-class district of Colonia San Benito, an area of homes protected by police guards and high fences, one woman was more positive about the results of the election and the jockeying for power by Mr. d'Aubuisson. ''I think we've all had enough of Mr. Duarte and corruption. What we need is order here first to tackle the guerrillas. Too many changes like we've had and the people don't know what they want,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the huge contingent of network news crews and journalists are packing their crates of equipment and leaving El Salvador en masse. For many of them the story is over. For the Salvadorans the adjustment to a new political stage begins.

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