Elections 2009

The Historic Opportunity of the Left May be Lost, by Victor Mata Tobar*

Enthusiasm for the leftist movement throughout the Americas is a sign of the times. Tired of restrictive social policies that have worsened the inequities and exclusion, the people of the Americas see hope in the left – perhaps their last in confronting a structural crisis born from a model that advances stagnation instead of investing in society, and in an unconditionally free markets instead of a stronger State to control them. If left to its own devices, the free market is destructive and produces poverty while consolidating wealth. Such a model inevitably leads to crises like the one we are currently experiencing in El Salvador.

The electorates’ turn to the left in the majority of countries in the Americas, including the democrat’s victory in the United States, leaves only a few countries such as El Salvador, with a conservative, right wing government. The people of the Americas believe in the left because their leaders have learned to demonstrate pragmatism and tolerance, with less socialist rhetoric and more liberalism, and have transformed their societies. The left seeks the possible, though they do not discard the ideal as a final goal.

In El Salvador, the left will have, for the first time in the republic’s history, a real possibility of winning the presidency. The candidate is intelligent, honest, and well intentioned. His victory, however, is not a sure thing, as has been the thought for the past four months – at least according to the polls, which, while correct the majority of the time, are not always right. In recent polls, the electorate’s preference for Funes has decreased, and I identify two factors driving the decline: one, the weak policy message of the left, and two, the intelligence demonstrated by the right in the management of their campaign. Though he insists on achieving goals such as jobs and employment, the leftist candidate does not move beyond the abstract promise of change. In the United States, the change slogan produced excellent results for the democrats, in large part because the majority of voters in the U.S. rejected President Bush, and Candidate Obama made concrete promises. In El Salvador, President Saca actually has a high approval rating among Salvadorans, and the leftist-change slogan remains abstract with little impact.

The left’s is not running a negative campaign compared to the right, and in principle this seems a positive. We should not forget, however, the right’s extreme debilities, especially the corruption that has impacted the people and systematically destroyed the environment. In addition, the left’s campaign promises ought to be concrete and attractive, such as promises to build 80,000 homes over the next five years to address the housing deficit, supply potable water to all rural homes, or provide universal health insurance (I offer these only as examples of concrete promises, not actual recommendations for projects or policies). As an independent observer who is sympathetic to the left for its humane and historic plan, I stress that the promises should not be as abstract or general as offering safe change – this is unappealing to the electorate.

Finally, the left ought to cease its internal fighting once and for all, and present a strong front. The right, which can be questioned for its cruelty and greed, is showing great pragmatism and intelligence in order to win the elections. Did the mayoral election in San Salvador not just demonstrate this?

*Victor Mata Tobar practices human rights and environmental law in San Salvador and his native home of Apaneca, Ahuachapan. Over his long career, he has been on faculty at the Colleges of Law, Philosophy, and Journalism at the National University, advised the Salvadoran Ombudsmen for Human Rights, served on the board of numerous non-profit organizations, led law reform movements, and promoted the advancement of civil society. This article first appeared in the Diario Co-Latino on February 3, 2009

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