2014 Elections

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.

2014 Elections

ARENA Nominates Norman Quijano

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.

2014 Elections

The FMLN Chooses a Weak Candidate for the 2014 Presidential Elections

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.

Voices Developments

2012 Summer Newsletter

Over the past few months, we (the Voices staff) have focused most of our energies on programs and activities in our Salvadoran partner communities in Morazan and the Lower Lempa region of Jiquilisco, Usulutan. That focus has meant that we haven’t had as much time to post articles and updates on this blog as frequently as we have in the past.

Click here for Voices’ Summer 2012 Newsletter

To fill you in on our activities and progress, we put together a Summer Newsletter that includes some of the analysis of national issues we would normally post here.  Some of the highlights include:

–  An update on the Amando Lopez Forest Project and our work to scale that project up to surrounding communities;

– Elections in Comunidad Octavio Ortiz;

– Voices volunteers in 2012;

– Nueva Esperanza Five Months After the Floods;

– The CSM Youth participation in an Inter-Departmental Exchange;

– Standford University’s Delegations to Morazan;

– An Update on the Mining Issue;

– A Preview of the 2014 Elections;

– The Truce Between the Gangs; and

– An Update on the MCC and Partnership for Growth.

Even if you are not familiar with our work in Morazan and Usulutan, the community updates are  interesting for getting an on-the-ground perspective about how larger national and international issues  play out at the local level.

The Amando Lopez Forest Project is an example of a small, rural community struggling with the growing impacts of climate change. Their environment is changing and preserving the forest is one way they are trying to deal with this global reality. Amando Lopez is also a story about a community’s efforts to grow and survive in a globalized economy.

The Partnership for Growth and MCC are equally as interesting. Few North Americans have even heard of these U.S. “aid” programs, even in the context of other countries. In Morazan and the Lower Lempa, however, they are the topic of many conversations as people try to understand what they are and how they will impact their communities.

I hope you take a moment to read through the Newsletter. If you have any comments or thoughts, we’d love to hear them.

And of course we depend on your support to maintain this blog and continue our work with out partners in Morazan and the Lower Lempa. To ensure these programs continue, please click on the Donate Now button at the top of the page and consider signing up for a $25/month donation. It is easy and will go a long way to ensuring our partners continue to develop the skills and capacity necessary to face these global issues.

Thank you!

2014 Elections

ARENA ahead of the 2014 Presidential Elections

With the 2014 presidential elections “just around the corner” in El Salvador, political parties are well into the process of picking their candidates. Like other countries, Salvadoran political parties go through a nominating process to decide who will represent them in the general election. While the FMLN has all but officially chosen Sánchez Cerén, the current Vice President of El Salvador, as their candidate, the ARENA party has yet to select their candidate. Some in the ARENA party are still are still trying to change the way party officials will choose their 2014 representative.

El Faro reported on Monday that a group of ARENA reformists have proposed changing the nominating process. The party’s top leaders would still choose the candidate, but their vote would be secret. One party spokesman said, “if passed the reforms could change the invisible structure of the party.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive that secret ballots would somehow eliminate the “invisible structure of the party,” the idea is to provide those who cast votes with some anonymity so they can vote on merit. According to the El Faro article, four main power blocks finance and control the ARENA party. A former official in the Saca Administration (2004-2009) said these interests exert the most influence during the nomination of presidential candidates. Once a president is elected they may try to push an issue every now and then, but for the most part they leave them alone.  The secret ballots during the nominating process would in theory decrease the influence these four powerful interests have over the nominating process.

The nominating process has always been top-down, with the party base having little to no input. The secret ballots won’t change that power structure at all. The party leaders will still be the ones casting votes and the base won’t know whom they voted for. The main shift would be a consolidation of power away from the four interest groups back to the party leaders. One ARENA founder suggested the party give the base a voice in choosing candidates by moving to a party-wide vote. Doing so would bring the party more in line with the independent and inclusive voting practices that the Supreme Court has been discussing for the past year.

The El Faro article indicates that former President Alfredo Cristiani supports the reforms and is currently surveying the AREANA leadership to see if he can muster up a consensus to vote them into the party bylaws. While he has benefited from the current system over the years – it got him elected president in 1989 – it he would likely benefit from the changes. Instead of having to answer to the power blocks, party leaders will have more control.

The proposed reforms are not new; party leaders have been considering secret ballots for many years but they have not had the internal support to get them passed. Opponents of secret ballots argue that the current system has served the party well for the past 31 years and that there is no need for reform. They also argue that the current open system is more transparent.

The 2014 election is important for ARENA. They lost the presidency to the FMLN in 2009 and they want it back. ARENA did well in the March 2012 municipal and legislative elections, taking control of the Legislative Assembly and winning several municipal seats that have been in the hands of the FMLN for many years.

A few names have been tossed around as possible ARENA candidates for 2014. Norman Quijano just won his second term as mayor of San Salvador, and is often mentioned as a possible candidate. He said shortly after the elections that he would certainly be open to the idea of running. Another possible candidate is Ana Vilma de Escobar, who was Vice President under Tony Saca (2004-2009) and is the wife of one of El Salvador’s wealthiest businessmen. As already mentioned, Sánchez Cerén is the likely candidate for the FMLN party, and former-president Tony Saca may try to run as a GANA party candidate. Back in April, Tim’s Blog posted short bios on each of these candidates.

 

 

 

Politics, U.S. Relations

Salvadoran-Americans an Increasingly Important Latino Group in the U.S.

The Contra Costa Times (San Jose, California) reported on May 26th of this year that, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, Salvadoran-Americans now make up the fourth-largest Latino group in United States and 3.3 percent of the domestic Latino population. More than 1.6 million Salvadorans live in the United States as of the 2010 Census, two thirds of which are foreign-born. In another significant demographic shift, the current Salvadoran population came to the United States after 1990, which would likely mean that most of them migrated after the end of the Salvadoran Civil War (1992). Salvadorans have overtaken Dominicans as the fourth-largest Latino group in the U.S. and are not far behind Cuban-Americans, whose population is only .2 million higher. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mexican-Americans remain by a wide margin the largest Latino group residing in the United States at 31.8 million, totaling roughly 63 percent of country’s Latino population.

Metropolitan Demography

While the Census Bureau has yet to release population data by city or county, recent surveys show the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington, DC, and Boston as the major hubs for Salvadoran-American communities. In a survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, 8 percent of the Latino population in the Bay Area cites El Salvador as their country of origin, a percentage only behind those of the DC and Boston metropolitan areas. According to the survey, the regional placement of Salvadoran communities has slightly more than one-third (35%) of Salvadoran-Americans residing in California, while one-in-seven (15%) reside in Texas.

Quality of Life Indicators

The Pew study of the Salvadoran-American population also compiled statistics on education, income and healthcare. As concerns education, many Salvadorans still do not maintain a working knowledge of English. Less than half are proficient in English (45%) and 55% of Salvadorans aged 5 and older report not speaking English “very well”, compared with just 37% across all Hispanic groups in the U.S. The survey notes that Salvadorans generally have lower levels of education than the broader Hispanic population, 53% of Salvadorans 25 and older report not having received a high school diploma, contrasting with the 39% reported by the larger Hispanic population surveyed. Despite the comparatively poor education statistics, Salvadoran poverty rates at 19% come in lower than the overall Hispanic poverty rate of 23%. Fertility rates among Salvadoran-American women were also higher than both the domestic average of 35% among U.S. women and 40% among other Hispanic women. Salvadorans are acutely affected by a lack of health insurance when compared with the rate of uninsured Hispanics (31%) and the overall U.S. population (14%). Four-in-ten (41%) of Salvadoran-Americans do not have health insurance.

What This Means

Despite extensive efforts by both the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Hispanic Center, the numbers are not thought to be a totally comprehensive representation of all the Salvadorans or Central Americans who live in the United Sates. Both groups reported a higher than average percentage living illegally in the U.S., making them harder to count and harder to account for. What the studies do show however, is an increasingly large and culturally important Salvadoran contingent here in the United States. This large group of Salvadorans will likely have their greatest effect to date on their home country in the 2014 presidential elections. In the years prior to 2009 (the beginning of the Mauricio Funes Presidency), the government refused to allow absentee voting for the approximately one-third of its population living abroad. With the addition of absentee voting, it will be interesting to see how the politics play out, the Census Bureau and Pew Center data reflect that the United States will again have a pronounced effect on the outcome of Salvadoran elections.