El Salvador’s Constitutional Court Considering Claim Against Presidential Candidate Tony Saca

The Constitutional Court of El Salvador yesterday accepted a claim filed by Ramiro Peña Marín y Wilmer Humberto Marín Sánchez that the presidential candidacy of Tony Saca is unconstitutional.

The Court is considering three claims – 1) Saca, who was President of El Salvador from 2004-2009, isn’t eligible to run again until 2019; 2) he is guilty of fraud during his presidency; and 3) he has shares in corporations that have state contracts, which is a violation of Article 127 of the Constitution.

Tony Saca, who is running as a candidate for the UNIDAD party, is not the defendant in the case; rather it is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that has to prove the constitutionality of their decision to certify his candidacy. The Court has given them 10 business days to submit a brief justifying their certification of the Saca candidacy. After the TSE has submitted its brief, the Court will send the case to the Attorney General’s Office to get their opinion.

The first claim argues that a former President cannot run for another term until he has been out of office for an entire term. Article 152 of the Constitution says, “The following shall not be candidates for the President of the Republic:

1st – He who has filled the Presidency of the Republic for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the period immediately prior to or within the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential period.

The plaintiffs argue that the former president is ineligible to run again until after the new President takes office in 2014, and he couldn’t begin a second term until 2019.

The second argument is that Tony Saca committed fraud in 2009 when his administration submitted its final report. The plaintiffs argue that there was no way the administration could complete the report appropriately until those who had positions in the administration had finished going through their final audits, which did not happen until 2010.

The third argument the Court is considering is that Tony Saca is ineligible to be President because he holds shares in corporations that have government contracts. Article 152 .7, which refers back to 127 .6, of the Constitution prohibits a President from having government contracts. The plaintiffs argue that his ownership of Grupo Radial Samix, which has government contracts, makes Saca ineligible to run. They also argue that his involvement in the National Telecommunications Administration, which also has government contracts, makes him ineligible. Saca has argued that he transferred interests in these corporations to family members to avoid a conflict with the Constitution, but the plaintiffs argue this was insufficient and just an attempt to circumvent the constitutional requirements. He also argues that the concessions were to corporations, and while he was on the board of those corporations he did not own the concessions.

Tony Saca responded to the claims by saying he is sure the Constitutional Court will resolve the claim in his favor. He also said the claims show that the ARENA party is afraid of his candidacy and that they have had to resort to a dirty campaign. The former president also pointed to polls that show his candidacy will guarantee that no one candidate will win 50% of the vote on election day, forcing a runoff.

There were six other claims of unconstitutionality related to the Presidential Candidates – 4 others against Tony Saca (UNIDAD), one against Norman Quijano (ARENA), and one against Sánchez Cerén (FMLN). The court did not validate these complaints; they only agreed to consider the three against Tony Saca.

El Faro.net points out that if the Court agreed to hear the case, it means that there is a real constitutional issue to debate – this is not just a formality. All five members of the Court signed off on the decision.

Tony Saca is not having a good week in the press. On Tuesday (November 19, 2012) El Faro published an interesting report on Saca’s earnings during his presidency. They found that in 2003, the year before he became president, Saca was worth roughly $600,000 and had an annual income of  $200,000. By 2009 and the end of his Presidency, Saca was worth $10.5 million, more than 16 times what he was worth the year before he was sworn in as President.

If the Constitutional Court decides to annual Saca’s candidacy, it will most likely favor Norman Quijano and the ARENA party. Polls indicate that Saca is splitting the more conservative votes, giving Cerén and the FMLN a boost. The argument is that if Cerén can’t win in the first round, he’ll be able to peel away enough Saca supporters to win in the second and become President.

The last polls from La Prensa Grafica, however, show a close race with the Cerén and the FMLN ahead with only 29.4%. Quijano and the ARENA are close behind with 28.3%, with Saca is a distant third getting only 9.8% of the vote. Approximately 30% of voters remain undecided, which means this race is still far from over.

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