Buenos Aires Times


El Salvador elections to put governing party to the test

As Salvadorans head to the polls March 4, the president's FMLN party hopes to maintain its precarious hold on the Legislative Assembly.

Friday 2 March, 2018
Supporters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) participate in a political rally at the Gerardo Barrios square in San Salvador on February 25, 2018.
Supporters of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) participate in a political rally at the Gerardo Barrios square in San Salvador on February 25, 2018. Foto:MARVIN RECINOS / AFP

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Legislative elections Sunday in El Salvador will test voters' evaluation of leftist President Salvador Sanchez Ceren as he sees out his final year in office, with consequences for his FMLN party.

"For the FMLN to hold on to governing, it needs to get 29 deputies, which is the magic number" in the 84-seat single-chamber Legislative Assembly, said analyst and university professor Juan Ramon Medrano.

"If that doesn't happen, it will be pretty complicated and difficult for the current president, Sanchez Ceren," he said.

The FMLN -- the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, derived from guerrilla groups that ousted a US-backed government in the 1979-1992 civil war -- currently has just 31 seats and rules with ad-hoc backing from smaller right-leaning parties.

The rightwing opposition party Arena -- the Nationalist Republican Alliance -- has 35 deputies in the outgoing chamber.

Voters sick of 'deceit'

Sunday's election will also see the country's five million voters called on to decide municipal posts.

If the FMLN sees its already fragile hold on the Legislative Assembly weakened, it will find it harder to push through decisions requiring a qualified majority of 56 votes, undermining Sanchez Ceren. The president is constitutionally barred from seeking a consecutive second term.

Those decisions include ratifying debt and choosing supreme court judges and the nation's chief prosecutor.

A low election score for the FMLN would be "disastrous from an electoral point of view with regards to the presidential elections in 2019," Medrano said.

Arena, which was in power between 1989 and 2009, saw through privatizations of El Salvador's pension system and electricity and telecoms services. Now it is campaigning on boosting youth employment, improving health services and imposing austerity on government spending.

The FMLN is promising better public school food and uniforms as well as initiatives to make the country more "productive, educated and safe." It also wants constitutional reform meant to give greater say to the people.

Campaigning, which finished on Wednesday, has failed to stir the electorate. A survey by the Central American University found that 78 percent of the country believed "the political parties do not represent our interests."

The head of the university's Public Opinion Institute, Jannet Aguilar, said the "vacuity of the (campaign) content is no longer influencing an electorate sick and tired of so much deceit."

Sunday's elections will be overseen by observers from the Organization of American States and the European Union.

Security is to be boosted with the deployment of 23,000 police and 14,000 soldiers.




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