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El Salvador: The Left Assumes Presidency of Legislative Assembly

The Salvadoran congress, or the Legislative Assembly [ES], is comprised of 84 deputies that are directly elected by popular vote, creating parliamentary groups that correspond to the parties that acquired deputies in the elections that take place every 3 years. On February 1, the party of the left, Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN [ES]) assumed the presidency of the Legislative Assembly for the first time since it has parliamentary representation.

History behind the power in the Assembly

Since the period 1985-1988 when the Christian Democratic Party (PDC [ES]) had control of the Legislative Assembly by parliamentary majority and also of the executive branch with President José Napoleon Duarte, no party has been able to attain a similar share of power. In 1989, the party of the right, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA [ES]) won the presidency of the republic with Alfredo Cristiani and achieved a relative majority in the Assembly, which permitted him to have the presidency of the board, maintaining this position with the argument that the majority party deserved this post. All the same, starting in 2000, the party of the left, the FMLN [ES] has obtained more deputies than ARENA [ES] in some elections, but due to internal divisions in the party of the left and to agreements between ARENA [ES] and other right wing parties with whom it achieved a simple majority, it impeded the FMLN [ES] from obtaining the presidency of the legislative body.

Graph by author Omar Nieto showing number of ARENA vs. FMLN representatives in the Legislative Assembly

In 2009, the FMLN [ES] had legislative majority and consolidated its entire bench, but a new arrangement between ARENA [ES], the PCN [ES] (Party of National Conciliation) and the PDC [ES] added up to a majority and prevented the left wing party from assuming the presidency of the Assembly.

At the end of 2009 this changed, as ARENA [ES], soon after loosing its first presidential election in 20 years, suffered a party crisis that ended up in the division of the party and the rupture of its legislative bench. Its bench was reduced from 35 deputies to 19, with 12 drop outs that formed the new party The Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA [ES]) together with deputies who had also left their respective parties to make a total of 16 deputies. In October of 2009, these deputies signed a joint protocol with the other benches of the right – with the exception of ARENA [ES] – that allowed the division of the mandate of the presidency (of the Assembly) in two periods of 15 months each, the first of which was occupied by Ciro Cruz Zepeda [ES], deputy of the PCN [ES] and starting on February 1, 2011 by the FMLN [ES] occupied by Sigfrido Reyes [ES].

Citizen reactions

Reactions from the blogosphere were swift. Carlos Sura of the blog Sura’s Way [ES] qualifies this day as a “historic first of February,” [ES] because finally it is possible to achieve what he calls “political justice.” But Carlos warns that it will not be easy to assume the presidency due to the opposition of the political right, and advises Sigfrido Reyes to take the lead in promoting laws that seek the welfare of the population as well as that of the FMLN [ES].

El FMLN y Sigfrido Reyes deberían advertir que en esta administración no todo será sonrisas y buenas intenciones. Ya sabemos de personeros de derecha y medios que no perderán oportunidad para complicar las cosas.

The FMLN and Sigfrido Reyes should be warned that in this administration everything won’t be all smiles and good intentions. We already know the servants and means of the right that will not lose any opportunity to complicate things.

Ernesto Rivas of the blog Conversaciones con Neto Rivas [ES] opines that Sigfrido Reyes will assume the presidency [ES] of the Legislative Assembly as a part of his personal agenda to become a presidential candidate for the 2014 elections, interests that will not allow him to carry out the role of president of the legislative body; he also doubts that his aspirations are supported by the leadership of his party, but in the end congratulates him for being an intelligent person and a good politician.

En todo caso, bienllegado a su nuevo cargo, señor presidente. Lo estaremos observando de cerca, listos para reconocer sus méritos y criticar sus faltas, pero en ambos casos con la sinceridad y ética que distingue a nuestro blog.

In any case, a nice arrival to your new role, Mr. President. We will be observing you very closely, ready to acknowledge your merits and to criticize your faults, but in both cases with sincerity and the ethics that distinguishes our blog.

Jijmar of the blog Hunnapuh-Comentarios [ES] opines that the right is giving an exaggerated media relevance to the president of the Assembly [ES], as a part of a strategy to create the perception that the left is completely dominating the government and then to fault the FMLN for all the problems and disgraces of the country, similarly to what Napoleon Duarte of the PDC did at the end of 1980s, which ended with ARENA securing its power for 20 years and the almost disappearance of the PDC.

Si Sigfrido Reyes creyera que a partir de mañana tendrá el poder de Ciro Cruz en la Asamblea Legislativa, puede que se equivoque. Lo único seguro es que a partir de mañana tendrá una enorme responsabilidad con poco poder y autoridad real y esta es una de las fórmulas de los  fracasos.  Mañana podríamos ver a los diputados del FMLN caer en una de las trampas políticas más antiguas: “La trampa del oropel” los veremos desfilar felices sobre la alfombra roja, sin que se den cuenta que la derecha tiene el suficiente poder para jalar la alfombra con fuerza y botarlos a todos.

If Sigfrido Reyes believes that starting tomorrow he will have the power of Ciro Cruz in the Legislative Assembly, he may be wrong. The only certainty is that starting tomorrow he will have an enormous responsibility with little power and real authority and this is one of the formulas for failure. Tomorrow we could see the deputies of the FMLN fall into one of the oldest political traps: “the glitter trap,” we will see them parade happily on the red carpet, without realizing that the right has sufficient power to snatch the rug with force and throw them all.

On the blog Moncada, group of readers around the world [ES], Mario Zavaleta publishes a suspected statement of the FMLN committee in Sweden [ES] in which, equal to that of Carlos Sura of Sura’s Way, they consider that obtaining the presidency of the Assembly is a historical deed of political justice despite the efforts of the right wing opposition and even though this doesn’t change the parliamentary arithmetic, having a representative of the left in the presidency will make a legislative difference.

Sigfrido Reyes, heredero de sangre y de principios de Farabundo Martí, y continuador del batallar de obras e ideas de Schafik, sabrá ser digno representante no solo del FMLN sino de las grandes mayorías de salvadoreños que están esperanzados, que en el país se legisle con coherencia y presteza para hacer avanzar el proyecto de transformar la sociedad salvadoreña en el camino de la democracia participativa con justicia social. Felicidades Sigfrido, Viva el FMLN!

Sigfrido Reyes, ideological and biological heir of Farabundo Martí, and perpetual defender of the works and ideas of Schafik, will know how to be a dignified representative not only of the FMLN but of the large majority of Salvadorans that are hopeful, that in the country [representatives] will legislate with coherence and promptness to advance the project of transforming Salvadoran society onto the path of participative democracy wih social justices. Congratulations Sigfrido, long live the FMLN!

FatiGonz [ES], a journalism student, comments in her post “Another of these changes” [ES] the details she saw during the transfer ceremony, which was televised, capturing “memorable” phrases from both the outgoing president (Ciro Cruz Zepeda, PCN) and the incoming president (Sigfrido Reyes, FMLN) with its dose of sarcasm and scepticism with respect to the significance of the event.

Saluditos, a ver que pasa con este histórico traslado de poder en la Asamblea ^^ y no se alarmen que no van a sacar un decreto para hacernos jabón ni para comerse a los niños (por comentarios que escuché).

Greetings, let’s see what happens with this historic transfer of power in the Assembly and do not be alarmed that they will not issue a decree for us to eat soap or children (that's from comments I heard).

For her part, Virginia, of the blog Doxa [ES], in her “Editorial Monday #XXII” [ES], signals the bombastic and “Biblical” tone with which the media of the left magnifies this type of event, referring specifically to the article published in the newspaper Colatino [ES] titled: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's”.

On the blog Tu Opinión Ciudadana [ES] they bitterly criticize the arrival of the FMLN to the presidency of the Legislative Assembly [ES] and qualify them as the wealthy bourgeois left which have become parasites of the people. They consider that the only solution is for it to arrogate itself to the recently founded Participatory Democracy Movement [ES] (MDP) of the group called Revolutionary Tendency [ES].

El pueblo mismo debe de crear las condiciones para salir de esta cueva de rateros públicos. Debemos de crear candidaturas independientes, que no provengan de la derecha ni de una mal llamada izquierda, que se encuentra desgastando los perfiles de nuestros valores revolucionarios y que escupe la sangre de los caídos.

The people themselves should create the conditions to exit this den of public thieves. We should create independent candidacies that do not come from the left nor from the misnamed left, that is eroding the profile of our revolutionary values and that spits the blood of hour fallen heroes.

Repudiation, joy or indifference have been the reactions of the Salvadoran blogosphere, demonstrating the diversity of thought of the Salvadoran people and the ease with which they can express it and make it known to the world thanks to citizen media.

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