Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

EL SALVADOR: Left on Track to Win Elections

SAN SALVADOR, Jan 17 2009 (IPS) - The leftist FMLN is the front-runner in the polls for Sunday’s parliamentary and municipal elections in El Salvador, and analysts say a victory would boost its chances of winning the Mar. 15 presidential elections.

The analysts consulted by IPS said that if the outcome of the elections matches the latest opinion poll results, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) will have a real chance of a winning historic victory in a country that has traditionally been governed by the right.

Álvaro Artiga, a political scientist at the Central American University (UCA), said Sunday’s elections would allow political parties to measure the support they have managed to build up in nearly two years of campaigning.

The elections will be like a “first round, and will test the strength of the parties ahead of the presidential elections,” said the analyst, who is the head of the university’s political science graduate programme.

On Sunday, voters will elect the members of 262 town councils, 84 members of the single-chamber legislature, and 20 members of the Central American Parliament.

Under the country’s electoral laws, campaigns can only last four months in the case of presidential elections, two months in the case of parliamentary elections, and one month for municipal elections.

But both the FMLN – the main opposition party – and the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Party (ARENA) began to campaign in mid-2007, in the face of lax oversight by the Supreme Electoral Court, which is controlled by the right.

The most prestigious and respected polling firms in El Salvador give the FMLN a 7.5 to 15.2 percent lead over ARENA.

An early December poll by the Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública (IUDOP) found that the FMLN, a former guerrilla movement, is 7.5 and 15.2 percent ahead in the municipal and legislative elections, respectively.

And in late December, the Centro de Investigación de la Opinión Pública (CIOPS) reported that the FMLN enjoyed an 11.3 percent and 14 percent lead in the municipal and legislative elections.

Jan. 2 was the cutoff date for publishing survey results on voting trends.

Polls commissioned by conservative media found that the FMLN had a narrower lead, of between 1.5 and 6 percentage points.

The proportion of respondents who say they will vote for the FMLN has grown by at least two percentage points in the last few months, in the midst of a scare-mongering media campaign by right-wing sectors.

A group of 30 Salvadorans complained to the Social Initiative for Democracy (ISD), a local election monitoring group, that some state institutions and private companies have organised “informative chats” in which they warn their employees that if the FMLN wins, it will usher in a “communist government” along the lines of the administration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

ISD director Ramón Villalta told IPS that these irregularities are the result of the control that certain political parties have over the Supreme Electoral Court and the lack of clear rules guaranteeing a transparent electoral process, which he said gives rise to worries about the possibility of fraud, since the election authority has refused to provide copies of the voter lists to the opposition parties.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office (PDDH) is investigating at least 10 cases of election-related injuries and murders. The head of the PDDH, Óscar Luna, had urged all political parties to sign a “no-aggression pact” in November.

The campaign for the municipal and legislative elections ended Wednesday at midnight with caravans and rallies in the capital.

The FMLN guerrillas demobilised after a 1992 peace agreement put an end to El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. Far-right death squads were blamed by a United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission for the majority of the 75,000 killings and 8,000 forced disappearances committed during the armed conflict.

Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties won the presidential elections in 1972 and 1977, but the military resorted to fraud and repression of opponents, leaving a number of them dead or “disappeared” and forcing many to flee into exile, in what historians see as one of the catalysts of the civil war.

Even if the FMLN performs well in Sunday’s elections, it will not be able to win a simple majority in parliament (43 seats), and the alliance of right-wing parties will continue to dominate the legislature.

The other parties taking place in the elections are the right-wing Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and National Reconciliation Party (PCN) and the centre-left Democratic Change (CD) party and Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR).

The FMLN, which has failed to win the presidency in three elections since 1994, has chosen Mauricio Funes, a popular talk-show host and former CNN correspondent, as its presidential candidate – a move that will enable the party to draw voters who would not have cast their ballots for one of its long-time leaders, according to analysts.

“The FMLN’s strategy in nominating Funes is smart,” while “people see the ARENA candidate as more of the same,” Nelson Zárate, head of CIOPS, told IPS.

Opinion polls referring to the presidential elections show that Funes enjoys a lead of 16 to 17.3 percentage points on his ARENA opponent Rodrigo Ávila.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) has sent 82 election observers and the European Union has sent 40 for Sunday’s poll. In addition, a number of research centres and non-governmental organisations will send thousands of their own observers around the country to monitor the vote.

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