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El Salvador

Presidential elections El Salvador 2014 : The dialectic between the electoral and the political

In the face of our surprised gaze, the Salvadorian political panorama underwent a profound change on this March 9, radically altering the secure expectation of an overwhelming victory over the oligarchic right represented by ARENA, for the harsh reality of a clear outcome in which the right regained its electoral surge and the left lost its ten point margin obtained in the February 2 vote.

Things have changed. Even though the FMLN [1] won the presidency in the end, this will be a fragile electoral victory, compromised in the face of a right-wing that has recovered and renewed its strength. The left has receded politically and in five weeks has gone from a difference of 300,000 votes to 6,000 votes, and the final result may be even less. For the left it is necessary to look into this and examine its causes in order to overcome it, since to hide it or cover it up will only contribute to its continuance.

In the face of this irreversible political fact it is important to revise our premises and attempt an explanation. What happened ? To determine what happened in the March second round we start from the premise that it was highly improbable, although not impossible, that the right could overcome a ten point lead, equivalent to some 300,000 voters. This premise proved to be false since ARENA succeeded in overcoming these numbers to situate itself again in parity with the FMLN.

March 9 signifies an electoral move to the right as the result of a weakness on the part of the people’s movement. It shows that we need not only a strong electoral organization such as the FMLN but a wide and varied popular movement. Large parts of those who voted for the FMLN on February 2 changed their vote on March 9 and cast their ballots for ARENA. This indicates that these popular sectors lack organization and consciousness of the struggle for their interests. These are sectors easily manipulated by the right.

On February 2 they voted their thanks for the social programmes that the Government had instituted in their benefit, but this was not an ideological vote, but a political one. On March 9, they voted according to their ideology, which is still conditioned by the right. To think that receiving school uniforms and shoes for their children moves people to the left is ingenuous and mistaken. And in politics errors are costly. This is the principal element that explains what happened, in addition to other aspects that we shall discuss. But, I must repeat, this is the principal factor.

And until the left dedicates time, resources and thought to the reconstruction of a popular movement and while it thinks only of candidates for the next election, the right, which can count on ideology, with the media, churches and universities, will be strengthened and will continue to develop and might displace us.

All politics is not electoral, but everything electoral is political. Politics covers and reaches territories that have an impact and are reflected in electoral results. At different moments following February 2 both the FMLN and ARENA employed both internal and external elements to achieve the political defeat of their adversaries.

At the external level, the coincidence in time between the electoral campaign and events in Venezuela were manipulated by the media to create an image according to which an electoral victory of the FMLN would result in a situation of chaos and violence. People place a high value on peace and this can expose a sensitive nerve.

On the internal level, the combination of an accident with a Ferrari in the Plaza Masferrer and complications of an injury in the waistline of President Funes that required surgery, allowed the right wing media to associate these facts and create a reasonable doubt over the presidential participation in this incident. People place a high value on sincerity, and it appeared as if the President was hiding something.

President Funes, during these five weeks, continued to play a leading role in political accusation against ARENA. In the end it appears that various sectors of the middle-classes reacted negatively in the face of this situation and were mobilized in favour of ARENA, and in particular young people. There was an over-concentration on the public image of President Funes that in the end was damaging.

In addition, the accusations of corruption made by President Funes against ARENA governments made it possible to remove ex-President Francisco Flores, advisor to the Presidential Candidate Quijano, from the political limelight. This may have been the greatest favour that could have been done to ARENA, since with his leaving, internal forces within this party that had been blocked by Flores were freed up, and in the end this strengthened the political campaign of the right.

Moreover, there is a sector of the popular classes that is politically backward, and that reacted positively to the aggressive language of the ARENA campaign, and which was stimulated by a ferocious anti-communism that appealed to the ideological framework of their formation. ‘El Salvador will be the tomb where the reds will fall, thus saving America.’

Another element is that in this second round the options were quite clearly the right and the left. During the first round in February there were two choices on the right (ARENA and the Coalición Unidad of ex-President Saca), which divided the right-wing vote. On this occasion, the Unidad ranks did not follow the political advice of their leader, they surpassed him and voted ideologically for the right, for ARENA.

No matter what emerges from the definitive electoral results, that will be known within a few days, and which will probably favour the FMLN, it is obvious that we have reached a new stage in our politics in which the contest for the minds and hearts of the popular classes in view of the municipal and legislative elections to be held next year, will involve a serious dispute and much hard work, to regain the ideological consistency and the organizational strength on the part of the left to defend accumulated gains and move forward.

A decision to retreat in the face of the right to guarantee the “institutionalism” of the new FMLN government and invite the right to participate in government, would be a grave error. And this is a real possibility. What is needed is to take a clear standpoint and defend the people’s right not to surrender that which has been gained. The struggle continues !


[1NdT. FMLN : Frente Farabundo Martí de Liberación Nacional, the left-wing party and former guerrilla movement, in government since 2009.

Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.