(from the Council On Hemispheric Affairs - written by Kira Vinke. Kira participated in the Sister Cities elections observation delegation in March.)
Mauricio Funes’ victory in the Salvadoran presidential election on March 15 marked what could be an important alteration in the country’s politics. After two decades of often fierce right-wing rule, the former guerrillas of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) defeated the incumbent Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) with a respectable 51.3 percent majority of the vote. On June 1, Funes and his Vice President, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, will take over a country in a disastrous economic situation which is still haunted by its more than decade-old civil war and the years of failed governmental policies that followed it.
The Nature of the Victory
As of now, Funes is not the president. In fact, he is playing his cards very carefully as the president-elect, projecting an image at the present time as being cool on Hugo Chávez and warm on Obama. The niceties of Salvadoran internal politics may require this, but not necessarily the values of the average FMLN militant. Here is where the question remains: will the average rank-and-file FMLN voter be content with a ‘lite’ version of a president in the mould of Funes, or will they increasingly turn to the party’s vice President-elect Sanchez Ceren, as representing the true ethos of the party and incoming government?
During its 20 years in government, ARENA aspired and succeeded in being Washington’s best friend in Central America, adopting its neo-liberal economic plans and ultimately following it blindly into economic crisis. The new country consequently has not prospered and faces a growth rate of only one or two percent this year. Remittances from the U.S., which long have been the lifeline of the Salvadoran economy, are also at risk, since many Salvadoran immigrants in the U.S. face losing their jobs and some already are heading home. ARENA’s violence-streaked legacy will pose a challenge to the new administration, which will have to be aware of the opposition’s attempts to pass on the blame for El Salvador’s neo-liberal soaked predicaments to FMLN officials, who, of course, have not had time as of yet to be guilty. Most of these have in fact been passed on by a long series of heavy-handed right-wing orthodox ideologues.
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