El Salvador gets a new leader

Arm-twisting by the Salvadoran military, coupled with pressure from the United States, has kept alive El Salvador's land and banking reforms - and brought an independent moderate to the Salvadoran presidency.

It is not all that the military, Salvadoran political centrists, and US wanted in the wake of March 28 balloting for a constituent assembly. But it may be the best they could get in the face of an extreme rightist victory in that vote. The Christian Democrats won 40 percent of the popular vote but only 24 seats in the new assembly.

The Constituent Assembly's selection of Alvaro Magana, Chicago-educated economist and banker, as interim president for the next year or two, is viewed by observers as a long shot that may keep the extreme right in check.

Mr. Magaa, who was scheduled to be sworn in Sunday, is expected to keep a balance between the extreme rightists who control the 60-member assembly, and the reformist military and moderate Christian Democrats, who still remain nation's single largest political force.

But Mr. Magana, who has headed El Salvador's mortgage bank for 17 years, faces immense problems.

His biggest challenge will come from the right, which opposed his candidacy. His selection also went sharply against the wishes of the right's acknowledged leader and the assembly's own elected president, former Army major Roberto d'Aubuisson.

D'Aubuisson and his Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) won 17 seats in the March vote and appear unwilling to compromise on their extreme rightist political philosophy.

The two-year-old economic and social reforms begun by Christian Democrat Jose Napoleon Duarte, and now inherited by Mr. Magana, are going to be seriously challenged in the days ahead by the assembly. Observers feel that Mr. Magana's selection was only one battle in what is certain to be a long war between rightists and moderates in El Salvador.

Mr. Magana's selection was backed - and indeed engineered in part - by the military. It apparently used a trump card in getting 12 of the 14 members of the rightist Partido de Conciliacion Nacional (PCN) in the assembly to vote for Mr. Magana, joining the Christian Democrats with their 24 votes.

The Army cannot, however, count on absolute PCN support in the months ahead as the assembly begins its deliberations. But the fact that the military, along with US pushing, was able to get the PCN to bolt the alliance with ARENA on this issue suggests that the rightist coalition may not be as strong as some expected.

Meanwhile, the active civil war between the military and leftist guerrillas escalated last week in full-fledged battles in eastern Morazon Province. The military suffered heavy loses.

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