New President Mauricio Funes Takes Office
On March 15, 2009, Mauricio Funes, the candidate for the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN) won the presidency in a historic victory that marked the end of twenty years of one party rule by the right-wing party, Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA). As Funes takes office on June 1, he will be faced with great challenges within the Salvadoran government and in Salvadoran society as well. Recent constitutional reform measures, a growing budget deficit, international investment and trade concerns, and the upcoming cabinet announcements are issues that will challenge Funes’s government. Funes must also confront the continuing poverty, healthcare deficiencies, falling remittances, and violence throughout Salvadoran society.
As Funes takes office on June 1, many will be eager to see what kind of changes will take place in El Salvador. Here is a preview of some of the most immediate issues surrounding the June 1 inauguration.
Since the historic victory of the FMLN in the March 15 presidential elections, the cabinet appointments have been widely reported and debated. Though President-elect Mauricio Funes has maintained that he would not announce all of the appointments until his June 1 inauguration, some positions have recently been confirmed, and there has been much speculation of others. Many civil society organizations and lobbying groups have made their cabinet choices clear, and news sources have leaked proposed candidates. Even though Funes has denied their validity, a few of their predictions have been confirmed already by government officials.
On May 26, President-elect Funes named the members of the Economic cabinet. Those announced were Héctor Dada Hirezi as minister of the Economy, Alex Segovia as Technical Secretary, Carlos Acevedo as president of the Central Reserve Bank and Carlos Cáceres as head of the Treasury department. The new Economic cabinet has thus far maintained that it would keep the dollar as El Salvador’s official currency, a topic that has been controversial among government officials and citizens since the dollar was introduced in 2001. Other plans include creating more economic transparency, a development bank within the Central Reserve Bank, and a mechanism to ensure that the large “informal sector” of the economy pays taxes.
Also announced by Funes and his advisors recently were Gerson Martínez as minister of Public Works, Manuel Sevilla as minister of Agriculture, Manuel Melgar as minister of Security, Victoria Marina de Avilés as minister of Labor, María Isabel Rodríguez as minister of Health, and José Napoléon Duarte as the minister of Tourism. News sources have reported that the president is considering Francisco Cáceres as Private Secretary and David Rivas as Communications Secretary. It has been reported as well that Vice President-elect Sánchez Cerén would be also serving as the Minister of Education (MINED). David Mungía Payés has been chosen to be the new minster of Defense. Cabinet announcements have already aroused controversy amongst FMLN party members, and it may be difficult for Funes to negotiate further choices with the FMLN base.
The incoming cabinet will have their work cut out for them upon entering office. The global economic crisis has slowed foreign investment and remittances from Salvadorans abroad, and violence and crime continue to escalate in El Salvador. Furthermore, health services are plagued with shortages and insufficient resources, and many of the Millennium Development Goals that El Salvador has committed to achieving by 2015 are still far from being achieved. Salvadoran citizens have great expectations for change in the next four years, and because of this, many citizens have been very interested in the decision-making process to appoint cabinet members.
President Funes will announce the remaining cabinet members in the upcoming days. The inaugural ceremony will take place in the Centro de Ferias y Convenciones this week. Leaders from around the world will be attending the inauguration including United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-Jeou, and the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, among others.
Party politics and polarization in El Salvador
President-elect Funes is already facing one of the most prevalent challenges in Salvadoran politics: party polarization. This was evident with recent constitutional reform votes, and was present throughout the eight years of President’s Saca’s terms in office as well. Polarization partly comes from the parties past ideological differences, but has become entrenched in an intense bi-partisanship. Political decisions are more often aligned to party interests than the issues at hand.
The FMLN now has the greatest majority in the Legislative Assembly after recent Legislative elections with 35 out of 84 seats. However, ARENA has 33, and two other right-wing parties, the PCN and the PDC hold the remainder of seats and frequently align themselves with ARENA. FMLN may have to make considerable compromise in the coming years, but third parties have thus far made it clear that their support can be won with political favors and negotiation.
Funes will have to deal continuously with polarization throughout his first term in office, and he may also face conflict within his own party. Because the president-elect has not been a long-standing figure in the FMLN and did not participate in the guerrilla warfare while most other FMLN leaders did, some party members may be reluctant to support some of his more moderate positions. Furthermore, FMLN members are highly charged since this is the first presidential election they have won. The atmosphere for change and reform is strong, and party members will be making sure their voices are heard.
With the recent Economic cabinet announcements, some FMLN members vocally expressed their disagreement with Funes’s choices. Whether or not these disagreements will cause further party division will be evident with the remaining cabinet announcements and the first few months that Funes is in office.