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February 25, 2021, 04:31:10 PM

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  El Salvador presidential election 3 Feb 2019
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Author Topic: El Salvador presidential election 3 Feb 2019  (Read 481 times)
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« on: February 05, 2019, 05:39:11 AM »

Largely copy-pasted from AAD.

El Salvador held a presidential election this past Sunday (3 February). The president is elected to a non-renewable five year term, immediate re-election is banned.

El Salvador has a lot of problems, chief among them criminality and a high homicide rate (around 50 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2018, still much lower than in 2015 but one of the highest in the world), but since the end of the civil war in 1992 it has been more or less democratic - today, its democracy is more real and vibrant than in Guatemala, Honduras and (obviously) Nicaragua. Since the end of the civil war, politics have been dominated by two parties - the right-wing Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) and the left-wing Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), both of which very much have their roots in the civil war years with all the horrors that entails. ARENA was founded in 1981 by ex-major Roberto d'Aubuisson, a pathological killer and death squad leader, and while ARENA has since shifted into a more generic (and acceptable to conservative US interests) "anti-communist" right-wing neoliberal [and corrupt] party they still keep a very special place in their hearts for war criminals and complete psychos like D'Aubuisson (still honoured as the party's founder). The FMLN was founded in 1980 by five left-wing armed groups, and it was the main left-wing guerrilla during the civil war, becoming a political party (and main opposition to ARENA) after the signature of the Chapultepec peace agreement in 1992. ARENA held power for 20 years between 1989 and 2009, through a succession of four presidents (Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderón Sol, Francisco Flores and Elías Antonio 'Tony' Saca) who adopted the sorts of policies which gets the US and IFIs all giddy (privatizations, structural adjustments, free trade, dollarization, privatized pension funds).

The FMLN did not win power until 2009, in part because they remained a 'radical far-left' party until then (and is still seen as such by its right-wing opponents). When the FMLN won its first election in 2009, it did so thanks to a moderate outsider, Mauricio Funes (a former journalist), who campaigned on a generic message of change. Funes did implement some new social policies, but his presidency – the first 'left-wing administration' in the country's history – will undoubtedly mostly be remembered for how Funes and his clique enriched himself, abused his powers for political purposes and ran away with the cash. Implicated in several corruption cases in El Salvador, in 2016 Funes fled the country and was granted political asylum in Nicaragua (definitely something which screams "I have nothing to hide"), claiming he was the victim of political persecution by the right. In 2017, Funes was convicted in absentia by a Salvadoran court for illicit enrichment. Funes, still in 'exile', faces four arrest warrants – one for embezzling $350 millions from the presidency's secret slush fund, one for bribing the former attorney general, one for leaking a classified document (a suspicious transactions report from the US Treasury) to attack former president Francisco Flores and the latest one for money laundering.

The FMLN retained power in 2014 in the closest election in Salvadoran history. Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander during the civil war, defeated ARENA's unhinged far-right candidate Norman Quijano by just over 6,000 votes in the second round. Whereas Funes was an outsider who had a tense relation with the FMLN characterized by mutual distrust (Funes famously thought that the FMLN was spying on him), Sánchez Cerén is a party insider who has given bureaucratic jobs and sweet business deals to party allies. He leaves office with a poor record and a party in crisis. Homicide rates surged to over 100 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015, after the end of the controversial 2012-13 'gang truce' and the new government ramping up a hardline strategy. Homicide rates have since fallen sharply (at least for now), to a little over 50 in 2018, and the government credits its hardline policies, but this has been called into question by some. Human rights abuses by state security forces have become a major problem, with accusations that the police is taking part in extrajudicial killings of criminal groups and credible reports that death squads have spread systematically targeting gang members. Moreover, while homicides were down in 2018, kidnappings were up (over 3,300 – more than murders).

The ruling FMLN was trounced in last year's legislative and municipal elections. The party lost over 325,000 votes from the 2015 elections and lost 8 seats in the Legislative Assembly, in which the right (ARENA and smaller parties) now hold an absolute majority. An article in Revista Factum provides a lengthy analysis of the FMLN's decadence and crisis: once in power, it abandoned its principles, betrayed what it (ostensibly) stood for and did what it had accused ARENA of doing for years (corruption, impunity, abuse of power, backroom deals, cronyism, human rights abuses). In power for a decade now, the FMLN has very, very little to show for itself besides dashed hopes. It's become part and parcel of a corrupt and broken political system which it had been supposed to fight.

The candidates were

Hugo Martínez (FMLN): With the unenviable task of representing the deeply unpopular and discredited ruling left-wing FMLN is former foreign minister (2009-2013, 2014-2018) Hugo Martínez. Martínez won the FMLN's nomination in a low-turnout primary in May 2018 which followed the FMLN's rout in the legislative elections in March. He won 72.1% in the primary against 27.9% for former public works minister Gerson Martínez, perceived as the candidate of the party's 'old guard' or establishment which was very badly shaken up by the 2018 defeat. Hugo Martínez was supported and encouraged by vice president Óscar Ortiz (often on the losing sides of internal contests) and, more broadly, by the 'bases' of the party unhappy with the leadership. Hugo Martínez's campaign has desperately tried to downplay the unpopularity and failures of FMLN governments, criticizing his party in some instances and dissociating himself from corruption scandals (like Funes). Yet, his campaign is still surrounded by people from the 'old guard' (his campaign manager is Medardo González, secretary general of the FMLN for 14 years and one of the main culprits in the party's crisis). His platform is fairly detailed and standard-fare moderate leftist/social democratic, promising to strengthen existing social programs, focus on education and rural development as well as reduce crime by seemingly continuing with the outgoing government's hardline crime policies.

Carlos Calleja (ARENA-PCN-PDC-DS): The old ARENA (and its current venal allies of circumstance) is trying to present a 'new face' with a young candidate with no prior political experience, 42-year old businessman Carlos Calleja. Calleja is the vice president of the Grupo Calleja (founded by his grandfather, a Spanish immigrant, in the 1950s), which owns Súper Selectos, the largest supermarket chain in the country (98 stores, over 7500 employees). Calleja has a degree in liberal arts from Middlebury College in Vermont and a MBA from NYU. Calleja joined the party in 2013, but his family has financed the party for years. He emerged victorious from a divisive primary in April 2018 with 60.8% against 38.2% for Javier Simán, another businessman (he is one of the administrators of Grupo Simán, a major retailer in Central America, and former president of the Salvadoran association of industrialists). Calleja markets himself as the face of a 'new ARENA' and of a new generation, and one of his selling points is, rather tellingly, that he has no 'political past'. Calleja's platform is pretty generic right-wing liberal stuff, promising to create 300,000 jobs over the next five years in strategic sectors. Carlos Calleja's running mate is also a 'political outsider' - Carmen Aída Lazo, an economist and dean of economics/business at the Escuela Superior de Economía y Negocios, a private university. But for political purposes, she's affiliated herself to the nasty old Partido de Concertación Nacional (PCN), a right-wing party which was the party of the military regime in the 1960s and 1970s and whose ranks still include a bunch of lovely old people connected to death squads and paramilitaries during the civil war. Carlos Calleja, as aforementioned, is supposed be the new face of the right and is running hard against corruption... but is uncomfortable when the topic of ARENA's corruption comes up. The last two ARENA presidents - Francisco Flores (1999-2004) and Antonio 'Tony' Saca (2004-2009) - have been on trial for corruption. Flores, who conveniently died in 2016, was on trial for embezzling $15 million in earthquake relief funds from Taiwan in 2001, including up to $10 million which were diverted to ARENA's coffers and helped pay for Saca's 2004 presidential campaign. Tony Saca (who was expelled from ARENA in 2009, see below), is now in jail serving a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty and confessing to embezzling $300 million in public funds during his presidency. Calleja is supported by the PCN (which is right-wing but more venal and opportunistic than ARENA, and will ally with the highest bidder), the old Christian Democratic Party (PDC) which is still a pathetic shadow of its former self and a minor party called Democracia Salvadoreña, owned by businessman Adolfo Salume.

Nayib Bukele (GANA): The favourite in this election, who led in every single poll, is Nayib Bukele, the 37-year old former mayor of San Salvador (2015-2018). Bukele is of Palestinian descent (his father, Dr. Armando Bukele, was Muslim) and is a businessman. Under the FMLN, Nayib Bukele was mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán (2012-2015) and then mayor of the capital, San Salvador, between 2015 and 2018. As mayor of the capital, his main initiative was an extensive revamp of the historical centre of San Salvador. At the same time, as mayor Bukele negotiated pacts with gangs (MS13 and Barrio 18) both when he ran for mayor in 2014 (these negotiations are common, across all parties, during Salvadoran elections, with parties paying the gangs or promising them benefits in exchange for security and access to their territories) and when he was mayor. His election as mayor of the capital was a major victory for the FMLN made him a rising star in the ruling left-wing party, but he repeatedly criticized members of his own party, the government and the president until things reached a point of no-return in 2017 (with his presidential ambitions already obvious). He was expelled from the FMLN by the party's ethics tribunal in October 2017, after he insulted a female councillor in San Salvador. After his expulsion from the FMLN, Nayib Bukele tried to create his own party, Nuevas Ideas, but he wasn't able to have it recognized by the TSE in time for the election. Seeking ballot access for the 2019 election, he first turned to a minor left-wing party, Cambio Democrático (CD), but CD was controversially de-registered by the TSE in July 2018. In the end, he obtained ballot access by allying with the Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA), an ostensibly right-wing party founded in 2009-2010 by former president Tony Saca and a dozen dissident ARENA deputies. As mentioned above, Saca is now in prison for being a crook, and GANA has a reputation for being particularly corrupt and unscrupulous. Especially during Mauricio Funes' presidency, GANA allied with the FMLN in the legislature and, in the shadows, Saca and his clique (notably his cousin, infamous political fixer and operator Herbert Saca, who also has links drug trafficking and organized crime) became close allies of Funes' corrupt entourage (paranoid that the FMLN was out to  with him). It's quite clear that Nayib Bukele's affiliation with GANA is only a marriage of convenience, and his supporters will be voting for him rather than for the party he is running for. Bukele is the 'anti-establishment', 'anti-corruption' and 'change' candidate, who has been compared to both Macron and Trump, and his main appeal is that he is outside the traditional two-party system (which he repeatedly denounces as corrupt). He has a large following on social media and aggressive social media strategy (his campaign has made heavy use of Twitter and Facebook Live, while skipping debates and not taking questions from the media). As part of his anti-corruption creed, he's promising to create a CICIG-like international body against corruption and impunity in El Salvador, although deeper analysis of Bukele's idea suggests that his commission wouldn't be much more than another international cooperation agreement and wouldn't have CICIG's extensive investigative powers alongside the AG's office. Bukele will probably win and his victory would be an historic turning point in post-civil war Salvadoran politics, as the first president elected from outside the two-party ARENA/FMLN system.

The fourth candidate is Josué Alvarado, some businessman who immigrated to the US and then came back, also running some outsider campaign for the right-wing Vamos party, which appears to be an evangelical party.

The results are:

Nayib Bukele (GANA) 53.03%
Carlos Calleja (ARENA-PCN-PDC-DS) 31.78%
Hugo Martínez (FMLN) 14.42%
Josué Alvarado (VAMOS) 0.78%

Bukele wins 1,388,009 votes. Calleja wins only about 831,000 votes - a drop from the 1.04 million won by ARENA five years ago in the first round, and the total 1.24 million won by ARENA-PCN-PDC in last year's legislative election. Calleja won about 747,000 votes on the ARENA ballot line, less than ARENA alone won last year (886k), itself a fairly mediocre result, while the PCN and PDC totally collapsed (21.5k votes for the PCN this year v. 230.8k last year; 8k votes for the PDC v. 65.9k last year...). Which is to say nothing of FMLN's complete and absolute disaster: Hugo Martínez got just 377,000 votes, less than the 521k won by the party last year in an already disastrous election for the left (in 2014, Sánchez Cerén won 1.31 million votes in the first round).

Turnout was quite low: 51.8%, compared to 55% in the first round in 2014 and over 60% in the 2014 runoff.

Nayib Bukele's victory is, above all, a major victory for those who want world leaders with facial hair:

Bukele's brief victory speech made absolutely no mention of the party label which allowed him to be a candidate in the first place (GANA), nor was any party leader on stage with him, although the party doesn't really seem to mind that for now. His victory speech seemed largely dedicated to mocking his critics (he called his victory the "triumph of the trolls", referencing those who said he had no base besides fake social media profiles) and twisting the knife even further in ARENA/FMLN, and celebrating the end of the "post-war era" (and the two-party system). Bukele didn't allow his running mate, Félix Ulloa (a lawyer and former FMLN magistrate on the TSE in the late 1990s) to speak. Without a party of his own, Bukele may find it tough in the legislature, where ARENA and its current allies hold an absolute majority. Although I would guess that the PCN and PDC will go up for sale pretty soon and Bukele will make a good offer.

Carlos Calleja, like every other spoiled rich guy who briefly played politics but lost, has said he will be going back to his businesses. ARENA, only ten years too late, seems to be finally admitting that they'll need to change something about themselves going forward. This is the party's third consecutive defeat in a presidential election, but this one is particularly bad because - unlike 2009 and 2014 - it wasn't even close, and ARENA won one of the worst results in its history. At least, they have something to fall back on: it is the largest party in the legislature and controls a majority of municipalities, until 2021.

The FMLN doesn't quite seem to have realized what the hell just hit them, perhaps fairly understandably given the dimensions of its defeat (14% is its worst result in its history as a political party). Party secretary general Medardo González appears to have gone into hiding.
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