COENA, the ARENA’s executive committee, announced that it has selected San Salvador mayor Norman Quijano as their 2014 presidential candidate. Other possible ARENA candidates included former Vice President Ana Vilma de Escobar, Diputado Edwin Zamora, and former Chancellor Francisco Laínez.
Quijano is a 64 year-old dentist from Santa Ana. His political career began in 1994 when he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, where he served for fifteen years. In 2009, he was elected the mayor of San Salvador, defeating FMLN incumbant Violeta Menjívar. This March he won a second term as a cadre of ARENA candidates won other former FMLN strongholds throughout the San Salvador metropolitan area.
Friends of Quijano have a website up with more biographical information including a 10 minute video.
More than 18 months before the March 2014 elections, both of El Salvador’s major political parties have selected candidates. In May the FMLN chose Sanchez Cerén, the current Vice President under FMLN President Mauricio Funes. It also appears as though former President Tony Saca (2004-2009) will run for another term as President, this time representing a coalition of the GANA, CN (Concertación Nacional – formerly the PCN), and PES (Partido de la Esperanza) parties.
Norman Quijano’s nomination is no surprise. In a July survey, 71% of respondents indicated that Quijano would be their best candidate for the ARENA party. On the contrary, 76% said that Vice President Cerén would not be the best candidate for the FMLN. The survey also found that 32.6% of respondents supported ARENA, while only 20.7% supported FMLN. GANA came in a distant third with only 4.6% support. Almost 40% of respondents didn’t have a preference for any of the parties. Perhaps the most telling was that 60% thought the ARENA would win back the presidency.
Despite his popularity, the ARENA mayor has sparked his share of controversy this year. In March 2012, the Salvadoran Institute for Municipal Development (ISDEM) sued Quijano for using his position in the Institute for political purposes.
A month later, the Court of Accounts found that as Mayor of San Salvador, Quijano had mismanaged over $580,000 in 2010 and 2011. The funds were provided by the Fondo para Deserrollo Económico y Social (Fodes) for public infrastructure projects, but Quijano used them to cover administrative expenses. As of August 11, the Mayor still hasn’t responded to the Court’s request for more information. Last week an official from the Mayor’s office denied that the funds were used for administrative costs.
With these allegations pending, Quijano recently led a group of ARENA mayors to request support from their conservative colleagues in the Legislative Assembly to increase the amount Fodes contributes to municipalities for infrastructure projects.
As the Salvadoran presidential race (more like an ultra-marathon) gets under way, it’s easy to look at polls like the one above, and conclude that Quijano will be the next president of El Salvador. But nothing is that straight forward, especially in Salvadoran politics. Each candidate has strengths and weaknesses, and Tony Saca could end up having a lot of influence over the outcome.