Feb 6, 2009
This week the field of candidates in the race for president was reduce by half. Only the FLMN with candidate Mauricio Funes of the and ARENA with Roberto Avila were left on the ballot when the candidates from the Cristian Democrat (PDC) and the National Conciliation (PCN) parties withdrew or were withdrawn from the race. (Note: check back soon for brief descriptions of each party.)
The PDC candidate Carlos Rivas Zamora, formerly a mayor with the FMLN, voluntarily withdrew from the race on Wednesday (Feb 4 2009). The withdrawl of the PCN candidate Tomas Chevez, an evangelical minister, was more controversial. Earlier, the PCN party leadership –which in Salvadoran politcs has much more power than in the US party system– ordered Chevez to withdraw from the race, but Chevez refused. In response, the PCN leadership voted to expel Chevez from the party, and on Thursday (Feb 5 2009) the leaders petitioned the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) to annul his candidacy, which they did in a 3-2 vote.
The TSE Magistrates voting in favor of the annulment cited Article 85 of the Constitution, which states that candidates may only seek the presidency with the support of a party. The Magistrates voting against the annulment pointed out that the PCN leadership violated its own bylaws by expelling Chevez without calling for a party-wide vote on the matter.
The PDC, PCN, and ARENA represent the contemporary political right in El Salvador. While the FMLN is the single party with largest number of representatives in Legislative Assembly, the right-wing voting bloc has the majority. With their candidate out of the race, the PCN leadership has announced its endorsement of the ARENA candidate, while PDC leaders have not announced an endorsement.
The withdrawl of these two candidates from the race is expected to unify the right-wing vote and give ARENA a boost, although it is unclear how much. It is predicted that ARENA will gain most of the votes that would have gone to Chevez, although there may be a backlash against the PCN leadership from Chevez loyalists. Already three PCN mayors have defied the party line and endorsed Funes. It is expected that the PDC‘s base will split, and may lean more towards the FMLN.
There have been allegations that the withdrawl of these candidates from the race was a negotiated agreement between the party leaders of PDC, PCN, and ARENA in return for favors or posts in a future ARENA government. These charges are denied by the parties.
In the five weeks remaining before the election, the FMLN and ARENA are left to court the allegiance of three main groups: voters who had supported Chevez or Rivas Zamora (in El Salvador they are called “floating voters”), the voters who have remained undecided, as well mayors from the PCN and PDC which may help sway voters in the first two groups. The FMLN‘s Funes has remained in the lead in most polls, but the withdrawl of PDC and PCN candidates is sure to tighten the race.