As of last week, Sánchez Cerén appears to be the FMLN’s candidate for the 2014 presidential election. The current Vice President went as far to say that he was the FMLN candidate and stepped down as the Minister of Education.
Analysts, and even high profile members of the FMLN, agree that Sánchez Cerén’s prospects for winning the presidency in 2014 are limited at best. Recent polls show only 13% of those surveyed believe that Sánchez Cerén is the best candidate to represent the FMLN in the upcoming elections. Party leaders are certainly aware of the challenges that a Sánchez Cerén candidacy would represent for the FMLN. Nevertheless, they are determined to nominate a seemingly weak candidate.
Until the 2009 elections, the FMLN nominated party hardliners as their presidential candidates resulting in predictable defeats. The rejection by the Salvadoran electorate of the party’s orthodox leaders was seen as the result of a long-standing campaign by right-wing groups to propagate fear of a leftist government, both nationally and internationally. To assuage those fears, the FMLN created an alliance with Mauricio Funes, a moderate, center-left candidate, who commanded a strong following among a broader sector of Salvadoran society.
Mauricio Funes, however, was, and still remains, an outsider. To many in the party, his election was an empty victory because he did not represent the orthodox-wing of the party, and was not part of the historical leadership that fought in the country’s civil war. Most importantly, Funes does not share the party leadership’s ideology and political agenda.
Nevertheless, Funes’ election was an important step in the FMLN’s long-term strategy. His government served to dispel all the apocalyptic consequences that many feared would befall on the country if the FMLN ever achieved the presidency. The leadership of the FMLN seems to think that the population is now open to electing a candidate that truly represents the party’s ideological roots.
Party leaders, however, also know that they must appeal to a border cross-section of the population to have a realistic chance of winning. They hope to do this by nominating a vice presidential candidate from outside the party who can appeal to moderates and independents.
This strategy is not likely to overcome the weakness of Salvador Sánchez Cerén as a candidate. In the March 2012 legislative and mayoral elections, Salvadorans rejected candidates with a similar background as that of Sánchez Cerén in former FMLN strongholds of Soyapango, Apopa and Mejicanos: party loyalists linked to the orthodox-wing of the FMLN and former civil war commanders.
One of the central themes that emerged out of the March 2011 elections was that of an electorate growing more independent and less beholden to rigid ideologies and party loyalties. La Prensa Grafica’s latest poll, conducted in May 2012, showed that only 9% of Salvadorans believe that the most of important factor in deciding who to vote for was party affiliations. Sixteen percent said the most important determinant was ideology. In contrast, 32% considered campaign promises and 35% the candidate to be the primary factor in their voting decision.
These trends may foretell a likely defeat for the FMLN in the 2014 presidential elections. The FMLN’s leadership is once again miscalculating the mood of the Salvadoran electorate. Salvadorans are demanding competent leaders that respond to the necessities of voters, not the interests of the party and its political elites.