Who Won the Elections in El Salvador?

The following post, “Who Won the Elections in El Salvador?” was originally written in Spanish on Tuesday March 14th and has been translated by Juliana Rincón Parra.

Who won the elections in El Salvador? Almost two million of Salvadorans went to the electoral booths this past Sunday March 12th to elect the Deputies and the Municipal Councils. It could be said that this number represents roughly fifty per cent of the electorate. A lower number than what the polls predicted, claiming more than 60% electoral participation.

Although it can’t be said that there was great absenteeism, it wasn’t a massive turnout either. Rather, the general and historic tendency of more or less half the population voting in El Salvador was maintained.

At the time of writing this commentary the final count, which will determine the official results, hadn’t begun. Thanks to the quick vote count that the TSE implemented (and which finally worked) we can have an idea of the results to be able to present to you the first commentary.

I wish to clear up that we do not have definitive results, and when such a short time has passed since the electoral event, it is likely that some elements will not be exact. Besides, even if we wish to be objective, in the first days we still walk around with a “hot head” regarding what just happened. Please take into account these two elements which no political analyst can avoid, much less this considerate and trusty servant.

Both ARENA and FMLN felt victorious last night. Both parties kept announcing they had won the elections and both celebrated their triumph in the El Salvador Mayor’s office. But in truth, who really won the elections?

If we look at the electoral results, both main parties are virtually tied, the difference between them shall not be too great. Up until now, both have been arguing and affirming they have one or two more deputies than the opponent. San Salvador's mayoral race is the best example of this “technical tie”. It is still unknown who will emerge triumphant. Both continued to claim their victory over the other, to such degree that the TSE decided to speed up the final count in this municipality to finally be able to establish the difference.

I could almost bet (as Lorenzana and Rank, in a TV program), that the difference between winner and loser will be less than two hundred votes. So whoever wins will be by a nose, and it won’t be a Great Victory for either of the parties.

On the other hand, the FMLN basically snatched out of ARENA’s hands important mayoralties such as San Martin and Cuscatancingo (in the department of San Salvador), but have lost important mayoral districts of important regions such as Santa Ana, Cojutepeque, Zacatecoluca and Usulután. In the municipality of Santa Ana they were dropped to the third place even though they where in coalition with Cambio Democrático. They lost the same way in Cojutepeque where they had the same coalition.

ARENA cannot declare itself victorious either. Although they used State resources intensively, utilized fear, and had the full time participation of the President of the Republic for their electoral campaign, they did not succeed to gain the majority of deputies that they needed to ensure that the President would be able to do as he pleased.

In almost every emblematic place where Tony Saca arrived with a great deployment of media resources to ask the people to vote for his mayors, they lost. I’m specifically talking about the Santa Ana cases where the PDC won, Acajutla where the CD won, San Miguel where the PCN won and Soyapango where the FMLN won. They were not able to regain a single one of these strategic mayoralties.

Furthermore, this happened after all the unlimited presidential support given to the candidate to the mayoralty of San Salvador, who is now between electoral life and death, and in case of victory, it’ll be for just a few votes.

Thus we ask again: who really won the elections this past Sunday?

In truth, the political polarization won. The two opposing parties who confronted each other to excess, who generated violence, who were hardly proactive but who spent millions in campaigning are the ones with the best results.

But this polarization signals two situations: That the rightwing group has obtained a better result, and that the country risks paralysis in the strategic sense. Let’s look at this situation carefully.

El Salvador has been historically polarized, both in politics as in the social and economical aspect. This polarization has been promoted through history by the right wing, since they know that it is the way to always win. By polarizing the economic spheres, the right wing gains money: they have sent millions of Salvadorans into poverty, but they have obtained juicy gains. The social debt in El Salvador is immense, we have no social policies in the basic areas such as health, education and housing, for example. In the political electoral field they also promote polarization.

Throughout Tony Saca’s campaign, he accused the FMLN of being anti-establishment, of being the party you can’t negotiate with, they exploited the fear of communism, etc. Their objective was to show that there’s a common enemy. They know that with this strategy they’ll cover a great part of the voters and then the remaining voters are left to the other two right wing parties, PCN and PDC.

The FMLN falls into the trap of polarization and counteracts with unreal proposals such as affirming that by going back to the colon, the prices of products would go back to what they were three years ago. They request by media campaigns for 43 deputies (half plus one of the Legislative Assembly) to be able to go through with their plans. The result is that they brought together the vote, but the right wing gets more deputies as a group.

As a consequence, ARENA will get from 32 to 34 deputies, the PCN will get 10 or 11 deputies and the PDC 5 or 6 deputies. As a group, the right wing has the majority of the Parliament (more than 43 deputies). The FMLN has 32 to 34 deputies, the CD will have between 2 or 3. With this correlation ARENA will control the Parliament. All the secondary legislation will be easily approved by the right wing.

The FMLN will once again have the “right of the pig”: to scream while it’s being led to the slaughterhouse. It’s only resort will be to control the necessary third needed to approve the credits. This will be enough as long as they don’t split once again, as it has happened in practically all the previous legislatures.

The problem is that with this, the only thing they can do is generate legislative veto to the credits and other issues of some importance, which could result in the paralysis of the country and in the long run could generate more wear and tear than advantages.

Although it stings, we have to recognize that the right wing is more intelligent in using polarization in the electoral field. ARENA knows how to distribute the extra votes among the PCN and PDC, who with relatively few votes get many deputies with these remainders. On the other hand, the FMLN ends up concentrating the vote and leaves the CD almost to the edge of its extinction with just two or three deputies.

Once again, the example of San Salvador is crystal clear. The FMLN was cocksure and thought they would win on their own easily, they forgot that the mayoralty had been won since 1997 in coalition or hand in hand with the current CD (formerly CDU). This time around they didn’t want to reach agreements with their friends of the democratic left wing.

They forgot that the Mayoral Candidate in San Salvador had always been a moderate leftist (Hector Silva and Rivas Zamora), who garnered greater trust among the electors. Now the CD achieved a 6% of the votes, which is not enough to win, but which would have been a key to the victory of FMLN.

If the FMLN had accepted the alliance proposal made in private by CD, Violeta Menjivar would currently be in her house, relaxed, enjoying the taste of victory, instead of having to be in a rally demanding for her “stolen” triumph.

We still have a lot to learn.

Ayutuxtepeque, Tuesday March 14th 2006

Written by JJmar, Translated by Juliana Rincón Parra


  • […] Jjmar at the Hunnapuh blog, as translated on Global Voices, offered post-election analysis. There were positives and negatives for both of the major parties, but on balance ARENA showed itself best able to play the politics of polarization. The FMLN finds itself a minority party in the legislature again, with only the “right of the pig,” to scream as it is being lead to the slaughter house. Its power will be limited to attempting to block government requests for borrowing authority. […]

  • juan

    what do you think about that FMLN wants to stablish a cuba embassy in el salvador?

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