Defeat was expected, but it could not have been more disastrous when it arrived.
In the legislative and municipal elections held Sunday in El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) lost not only the capital city and 12 district capitals out of 14, but also, in all likelihood (as the voting had not yet ended at press time), its control over the Legislative Assembly, which will have predictably devastating consequences on the last year of the government of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
One of these consequences will be a much smaller clout for the former guerrillas in the matter of the appointment in the coming months of four out of the five judges of the Constitutional Court, the General Prosecutor and the judges on the Court of Auditors.
The FMLN’s result, with its meager haul of 27 deputies (four less than it had until now), will necessarily require a thorough internal debate on the causes of the defeat and, most importantly, a decisive turn toward the masses.
One year before the next presidential elections, the combined effect of a protest vote against the government and an abstention rate of over 55 percent gave the victory to the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena), the extreme right-wing party founded by Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, the death squad leader known for ordering the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
This is the same party that governed the country from 1989 until 2009, bringing it to utter ruin, and which then devoted itself to the task of obstructing the actions of the FMLN government by any possible means. (As just one example of many, they blocked the approval of a long-awaited law on public and community water management.) Now, Arena, in addition to conquering the capital and 10 other district capitals (including Santa Tecla, where D’Aubuisson’s son by the same name was re-elected), can now reaffirm itself (with its more than 35 deputies), despite its internal divisions and factions, as the main political force of the country.
That a protest vote would end up rewarding Arena would seem unbelievable, if we forget that the people have demonstrated countless times, in every part of the world, their ability to vote against their own interests. Even if the FMLN can be justly criticized for the adoption of fiscal austerity measures imposed by the IMF, there can be no doubt about the fiercely neoliberal agenda of the far-right party.
And if the government of Salvador Sánchez Cerén has been accused of weakness against criminal gangs (the so-called maras), even though the statistical indicators of violence have actually fallen in recent years, it remains true that the newly elected mayor of San Salvador, Ernesto Muyshondt, was up for making deals with some of these very gangs to get their support during the last presidential election, even to the point of consulting them about which Minister of Justice and Public Security they would prefer in case of an election victory by Arena.
Nor can we forget that among his main donors have been all the entrepreneurs who reaped the largest profits from the privatization of the banking system, starting with the one who made it possible in the first place, former president Alfredo Cristiani; or, indeed, the manner in which the funds donated by Taiwan for the victims of the 2001 earthquake ended up in the pockets of Arena party officials.