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El Salvador: President Funes Prohibits Campaigning by Government Officials

President Mauricio Funes in the last days of 2010 declared [es]: “I will not allow my officers to get involved in the electoral process, ministers, deputy ministers and presidents of workers organizations have been prohibited…anyone that wants to dedicate themselves to the electoral campaign must resign.

He said this taking into consideration that 2011 will be a pre-electoral year and that during 2012 El Salvador will be in full presidential campaign mode, setting a precedent regarding the role the executive had played in previous election periods, periods in which even the president of the republic participated in partisan campaigning, allegedly using the state apparatus for these purposes.

Mauricio Funes during the electoral campaign when he won the presidency. Image by Flickr user Amber, rosaamarilla, used under license CC BY-NC 2.0.

In the Salvadoran blogosphere this has caused various reactions such as that of the blog El Trompudo [es] that says the ban qualifies as “a poisoned dart to the heart of the FMLN” [es] (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the left-wing party of which the President is a member) but strongly criticizes what they see as the tragicomic servility [es] of FMLN leaders complying with what Funes imposes upon them to keep their jobs. El Trompudo challenges them to take a stand “in favor of the party.”

Una preguntita levemente odiosa: cuántos funcionarios del FMLN van a renunciar para dedicarse a la campaña electoral y así dar muestras de fidelidad al partido?

A slightly odious little question: how many FMLN officials will resign to pursue the campaign and thus demonstrate loyalty to the party?

On the other hand, Elizabet Castillo on Neto Rivas’ [es] blog considers that the current position of the President should be appreciated since it is in contrast with the positions of his predecessors.

Esa fue la costumbre de los gobiernos de todos los tiempos, vimos vehículos nacionales participando en las actividades; ahora hace contraste con la posición del actual Presidente y su esfuerzo por desligarse del partido político en aras de mostrarse como lo que debe ser: Presidente de todos los salvadoreños, que incluye por supuesto, a su gabinete. No apreciar ese esfuerzo sería una actuación dogmática.

This was the custom of all governments, we saw national vehicles participating in activities; now it is in contrast with the position of the current President and his efforts to disconnect himself from the political party in order to show what he should be: President of all Salvadorans, that includes of course, his cabinet. To not appreciate this effort would be a dogmatic action.

Oscar Bello, also writing from Neto Rivas’ blog [es], broadened his comments when Funes replied to employees that testified about the possibility to dedicate partisan work after normal office hours or on the weekends.

“Este es un año electoral, es un año donde la dinámica electoral puede distorsionar la actividad pública ¿Qué significa esto? Que cualquier funcionario que quiera dedicarse a hacer proselitismo electoral lo puede hacer, están en todo su derecho, pero tiene que renunciar. Así de claro, no hay más. Ahí no es cuestión de interpretación”

“No es que uno dice que si el partido me lo pide, o que los fines de semana. Los ministros, viceministros y presidentes de autónomas y secretarios de la Presidencia de la República son los siete días de la semana. Yo no conozco un ministro que sea ministro de lunes a sábado y que el domingo deje de ser ministro” M.Funes

“This is an election year, a year where the electoral dynamic can distort public activity. What does this mean? It means that any official that wants to dedicate himself to electoral campaigning can do it but they have to resign. It is clear, there is nothing more. This is not a question of interpretation.”

“It isn’t that one says if the party asks me, or on the weekends. The ministers, deputy ministers, presidents of workers organizations and secretaries of the Presidency of the Republic are seven days a week. I don’t know a minister that is a minister from Monday to Saturday and on Sunday stops being a minister.” M. Funes

For Oscar Bello, the measure is designed in a way to “free” some ministers that by quota should be members of the FMLN or for those whose performance has been questionable.

Paolo Luers of the blog Siguiente Página writes a letter [es] to the officials that find themselves in this dilemma, exhorting them to resign, especially the Vice President of the Republic, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the Deputy Minister of Health Violeta Menjivar, the Director of the ISSS (Salvadoran Institute of Social Security) Oscar Kattan and Jorge Meléndez, director of the Civil Protection; but he affirms that this measure will not resolve the problem of the conflict of interest.

La renuncia de todos ustedes es sólo un primer paso. No significa mucho. Sobre todo tomando en cuenta que algunos de ustedes de todos modos deberían ser sustituidos al hacer una evaluación seria de su desempeño

You resignation is only a first step. It doesn’t mean much. Especially considering that some of you anyway should be replaced to make a serious assessment of your performance

Antonio Soriano of Salvadoreños en el Mundo titles his post “Funes marks distance from the FMLN,” [es] and limits himself to reporting on Funes’ message to his officers, without adding any judgments.

Moreover, the blogger Pocote of El Salvador Blog, in the post “Direct and guide with new breath,” [es] opines that when Funes tells his officers that they can not campaign or use state resources to promote a certain candidate, these:

Son palabras justas porque ciertamente no es honesto usar recursos y fondos del Estado para promover o apoyar candidaturas, mucho menos “hacer tiempo” en “horas no laborales”, como solía decir el bachiller Saca, para hacer proselitismo

Are just words because certainly it is not honest to use state funds and resources to promote or support candidates, much less “making time” in “non-working hours”, as the bachelor Saca used to say while campaigning.

However, the blogger criticizes the FMLN because it “has lost a lot of encouragement and easily forgets the already traveled revolutionary paths,” invites reflection and self-criticism as it is not enough to participate and be an electorally active element, but one must maintain a steady approach to the population to organize and mobilize it.

At the Tonaca Libre blog they write [es] that Funes has attempted to correct his errors and to not commit the same mistakes as previous leaders, since when he was a journalist he criticized officers that participated in political campaigning and it is as a result that today he launches these guidelines.

Muchas veces, en su época de periodista, el ahora presidente criticaba el hecho de que funcionarios al servicio del estado usaran banderas políticas e hicieran proselitismo y por lo tanto hoy que él es el mandatario debe hacer valer ese lineamiento que el ya ha dado diciendo que cualquiera de sus ministros que quiera hacer proselitismo debe renunciar, algo que nunca harán.

Often, during his time as a journalist, the current president criticized officers in the service of the state that used political flags and that campaigned and therefore now that he is the president he must uphold these guidelines that he has given saying that any of his ministers who want to campaign should resign, something they will never do.

Finally, Luis Aguilar from the blog SportReligionPolitics [es] argues that by prohibiting campaigning President Funes is wrong because its literal meaning is: the “attempt or active and activist effort to convert one or more persons to a particular cause,” which is part of the daily struggle of all politicians, whether official or not. Luis believes that:

No se debe tomar ventaja del puesto de funcionario para tener beneficios personales, pero si se debe tener claro que la lucha sigue y no se termina con la llegada de Mauricio Funes al poder,

One shouldn’t take advantage of an official post for personal benefit, but it should be clear that the struggle continues and doesn’t end with the arrival of Mauricio Funes to power,

Luis continues saying that the transformation of the country is a goal not yet reached, and therefore the politician should campaign according to the presented definition.

These are some of the views circulating in the Salvadoran blogosphere about an issue that has caused mixed reactions, some of them opposing as campaigning on the part of the executive was strongly criticized during previous administrations, especially that of Funes’ predecessor Antonio Saca. Today though the plot is the same, the characters are different.

Original post, “The Salvadoran blogosphere comments on the prohibition to campaign if one is an officer of the cabinet,” published in Hunnapuh [es] January 12, 2011.

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