Monday, October 15, 2018
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From arms to the polls
Edgardo Ayala
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An old rival stands in the way of the FMLN’s 2009 election victory.

The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) is making history: for the first time, it is evaluating a real chance to reach El Salvador´s presidential place in next year’s election. But the road will not be easy.

The former guerilla movement is facing down an old archrival that topped the FMLN in the past three presidential elections since 1994: the right-wing National Republican Alliance, or ARENA.

Both parties have vied for the presidency since the civil war ended in 1992, which allowed the once-guerrilla movement to become a political party.

But the FMLN, in its first attempts to win El Salvador´s highest office was defeated in campaigns that aimed to invoke fear in the population that it would instate communism.

Party infighting also impeded an FMLN victory at the polls.

But the party now appears more prepared. Mauricio Funes, a respected television journalist is its candidate, a move by the party to distance itself from a more radical image that frightened off some voters in previous elections.

Polls point to victory
Recent polls show Funes as the favorite in the March 15, 2009 election. The most recent poll by the University Public Opinion Institute at José Simeón Cañas Central American University, even gave Funes a 14-point lead over the ruling party’s candidate, former police director Rodrigo Ávila.

Funes has on his side eroding support for the current party, something political movements suffer after being in power for long periods. ARENA presidents have governed El Salvador for almost 20 years, since even in the middle of a civil war, Alfredo Cristiani (1989-94) took the presidency for the Christian Democrats in 1989.

Another issue is the current economic situation. The next election will be decided in the midst of a very difficult economic situation for Salvadorans. For the first time in decades, the country´s inflation rate is already 10 percent, and the United Nations World Food Program recently warned that the high cost of food have caused 100,000 more people to enter into poverty in El Salvador. Voters are likely to blame this on the current government, which may boost the FMLN to victory.

“It´s clear that the FMLN learned a lesson and is presenting itself with a candidate that clearly knows about change, both for the country as for the language that has been dogmatically leftist,” wrote Central American University dean José María Tojeira in a column.

Contradictory statements
Nevertheless, the path to what could be its first historic electoral victory is full of obstacles.

Even though the FMLN has moderated its discourse since Funes signed on the ticket, in practice, much remains to convince the electorate. The core of the party still shows signs of maintaining orthodox positions that contradict the candidates platform.

For example, Funes had said that despite the fact that the FMLN has been a staunch critic of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which El Salvador has signed, he would not seek to pull out of the accord. But the head of the party Medardo González, recently told an online news site that once in power, the party could reconsider the agreement.

It is an important issue for El Salvador as 2.9 million Salvadorans live in the United States with temporary residency permits, and rejecting the agreement could close the doors off to this country.

González also said that the FMLN government could revert to the former national currency, the colon, instead of the current US dollar. Funes had said that the cost of returning to the colon is not currently viable.

“Far from having brought the paradise it promised, [dollarization] has reinforced our weaknesses,” Funes said recently.

“However, I´m convinced that at this time, the cost of de-dollarization is greater than maintaining the dollar.”

Directors of the FMLN have also been close with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is often viewed with suspicion and fear, and alarm by some civil society groups who harshly criticized the leader for his recent expulsion of a two-man delegation of Human Rights Watch from the country. Ties to Chávez could prove damaging for the party´s image.

ARENA, seeing itself at a disadvantage, nominated economist Arturo Zablah to the vice presidency, a former critic of past ARENA government´s economic policies.

Zablah is respected for the same reasons that Funes is: his criticisms against ARENA´s orthodox neoliberal policies. He was even in talks with the FMLN for a possible candidacy in next year’s presidential elections.

But Ávila convinced Zablah to be his co-pilot, knowing that it would soften ARENA´s right-wing image, portraying to voters that the ARENA is trying to fix its past errors, with the hope of using the ticket to gain points in the polls.

The FMLN has never been so close to an electoral victory and its leaders must be coherent in order to reach that goal.
—Latinamerica Press.

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