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.