El Salvador Government

Legislative Assembly Reaches Agreement on New Attorney General

It appears the Salvadoran Government will avoid another institutional crisis by selecting a new Attorney General for the three-year term that is to begin on September 19, 2012.

A conflict arose on April 25, 2012 when the outgoing Legislative Assembly chose Astor Escalante to be the next Attorney General of El Salvador. At 1:00 in the morning, Sigfredo Reyes, President of the Legislative Assembly, swore him in, even though his term would not start for another 5 months.

Members of the ARENA party objected to his appointment and filed a complaint in the Constitutional Court. In July, the Court ruled in their favor declaring Escalante’s appointment unconstitutional. The based their decision on the principal that each Legislative Assembly (which serves a three year term) has the responsibility to appoint a specific number of judges, as well as the nation’s Attorney General. In April, the outgoing Legislative Assembly, which appointed Romeo Barahona when they took office in 2009, appointed Escalante to serve for the next three years. This was their second appointment and if it stood would have essentially denied the current Assembly an appointment.

The Court handed down its decision while it was embroiled in its own crisis; many, including Escalante, said that the Court’s decision was invalid. With the summer’s crisis resolved, some feared another institutional battle over Escalante’s appointment.

According to La Prensa Grafica, the Legislative Assembly has reached a decision that will avert a new battle between the legislative and judicial branches. Yesterday stakeholders met to discuss a resolution and it appears they will void Escalante’s April appointment and start the process again so the new Attorney General can take office on September 19, 2012. They will choose from the same list of 47 candidates that were considered in April, and it is possible that Escalante may be chosen again – the fight was over the process not the person. Sigfrido Reyes clarified yesterday that the decision reached by the working group was a political compromise, and not an indication that they agreed with the Constitutional Court’s decision.

Prior to the meeting, the Catholic Church, the President and others asked that the Legislative Assembly resolve the issue before Barahona’s last day on September 18. President Funes even offered to mediate between the parties, but it appears that won’t be necessary.

The online news journal La Página had interesting political analysis back in July when they reported on the Constitutional Court’s decision. It was the ARENA block of the Legislative Assembly that objected to Escalante’s appointment, even though the ARENA supported his appointment during the Saca administration. In the months after leaving office, former President Saca was ousted from the ARENA party. The split was ugly and when Saca joined the GANA party, ARENA labeled him a traitor. Members of the ARENA objected to Escalante now because he supported Saca during the split. It will be interesting to see if Escalante will have the support of this new Legislative Assembly, which has a few more ARENA representatives than it did in April.