Politics of El Salvador

Politics of El Salvador takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of El Salvador is both head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.

Executive branch

Antonio Saca
1 June 2004
Ana Vilma de Escobar
1 June 2004
El Salvador elects its head of state – the President of El Salvador – directly through a fixed-date general election whose winner is decided by absolute majority. If an absolute majority (50% + 1) is not achieved by any candidate in the first round of a presidential election, then a run-off election is conducted 30 days later between the two candidates who obtained the most votes in the first round. The presidential period is five years, and re-election is not permitted. The most recent presidential election, held on 21 March 2004, resulted in the election of Tony Saca of the ARENA party with almost 58 percent of the vote, the highest in Salvadoran history. The turnout of 70 percent was also a record. The youthful Saca, who embraced pro-business and pro-U.S. policies, recovered ground lost in the 1999 Presidential election, which ARENA had barely survived, and in the March 2000 legislative races, in which ARENA had been eclipsed as the largest single party by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front and had retained overall control of the Assembly only by forging a coalition with a smaller party.

Legislative branch

Salvadorans also elect a single-chamber, unicameral national legislature – the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador – of 84 members (deputies) elected by closed-list proportional representation for three-year terms, with the possibility of immediate re-election. Twenty of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly are elected on the basis of a single national constituency. The remaining 64 are elected in 14 multi-member constituencies (corresponding to the country's 14 departments) that range from 3-16 seats each according to department population size.

Political parties and elections

The Nationalist Republican Alliance party, known popularly as ARENA (Spanish: "Alianza Republicana Nacionalista"), is El Salvador's leading political party. It was created in 1982 by Major Roberto D'Aubuisson and others from the right wing, including members of the military. His electoral fortunes were diminished by credible reports that he was involved in organized political violence, including ordering the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero in 1980 and organizing governmental death squads. Following the 1984 presidential election, ARENA began reaching out to more moderate individuals and groups, particularly in the private sector. By 1989, ARENA had attracted the support of business groups, and Alfredo Cristiani won the presidency. Despite efforts at reform, José Napoleón Duarte's PDC administration had failed to either end the insurgency or improve the economy. Allegations of corruption, poor relations with the private sector, and historically low prices for the nation's main agricultural exports also contributed to ARENA victories in the 1988 legislative and 1989 presidential elections. The 1989–1994 Cristiani administration's successes in achieving a peace agreement to end the civil war and in improving the nation's economy helped ARENA, led by standard-bearer Armando Calderón Sol, keep both the presidency and a working majority in the Legislative Assembly in the 1994 elections. ARENA's legislative position was weakened in the 1997 elections, but it recovered its strength, helped by divisions in the opposition, in time for another victory in the 1999 presidential race that brought President Francisco Flores to office. In the March 2000 legislative and municipal elections, ARENA won 29 seats in the Legislative Assembly and 127 mayoral races. In December 1992, the FMLN became a political party, composed of the political factions of the wartime guerrilla movement, and maintained a united front during the 1994 electoral campaign. The FMLN also came in second in the legislative assembly races. Internal political differences, however, among the FMLN's constituent parties led to the breakaway of two of the FMLN's original five factions after the 1994 elections. Despite the defections, the FMLN was able to consolidate its remaining factions and present itself as a viable option to ARENA in the 1997 elections. Divisions between "orthodox" and "reformist" wings of the FMLN crippled the party in the 1999 elections. In the March 2000 legislative and municipal elections, FMLN received 31 seats on the Legislative Assembly, which is three more than rival party ARENA. FMLN also won 77 mayorships and won 10 municipalities in coalition with other parties. The right wing of the National Conciliation Party (PCN), which ruled the country in alliance with the military from the 1960s until 1979, maintains a small electoral base, and gained 10 seats in the March 2000 legislative election. Several smaller parties have in recent years fought for space in the political center with limited success. The PDC, which won more municipal elections in 1994 than did the FMLN, is now down to five seats in the Legislative Assembly and is no longer a significant electoral force.

Judicial branch

Both the Truth Commission and the Joint Group identified weaknesses in the judiciary and recommended solutions, the most dramatic being the replacement of all the magistrates on the Supreme Court. This recommendation was fulfilled in 1994 when an entirely new court was elected. The process of replacing incompetent judges in the lower courts, and of strengthening the attorney general's and public defender's offices, has moved more slowly. The government continues to work in all of these areas with the help of international donors, including the United States. Action on peace-accord driven constitutional reforms designed to improve the administration of justice was largely completed in 1996 with legislative approval of several amendments and the revision of the Criminal Procedure Code--with broad political consensus.m

The Peace Accords

While most aspects of the accords have been largely implemented, important components such as judicial reform remain incomplete. The peace process set up under the Chapultepec Accords was monitored by the United Nations from 1991 until June 1997 when it closed its special monitoring mission in El Salvador.

Human Rights

During the 12-year civil war, human rights violations by both left- and right-wing forces were rampant. The accords established a Truth Commission under UN auspices to investigate the most serious cases. The commission reported its findings in 1993. It recommended that those identified as human rights violators be removed from all government and military posts, as well as recommending judicial reforms. Thereafter, the Legislative Assembly granted amnesty for political crimes committed during the war. Among those freed as a result were the ESAF officers convicted in the November 1989 Jesuit murders and the FMLN ex-combatants held for the 1991 murders of two U.S. servicemen. The peace accords also required the establishment of the Ad Hoc Commission to evaluate the human rights record of the ESAF officer corps.

In 1993, the last of the 103 officers identified by this commission as responsible for human rights violations were retired, and the UN observer mission declared the government in compliance with the Ad Hoc Commission recommendations. Also in 1993, the Government of El Salvador and the UN established the Joint Group to investigate whether illegal, armed, politically motivated groups continued to exist after the signing of the peace accords. The group reported its findings in 1994 stating that death squads were no longer active but that violence was still being used to obtain political ends. The group recommended a special National Civilian Police (PNC) unit be created to investigate political and organized crime and that further reforms be made in the judicial system. Not all the group's recommendations were implemented. The peace accords provided for the establishment of a Human Rights Ombudsman's Office.

Military Reform

In accordance with the peace agreements, the constitution was amended to prohibit the military from playing an internal security role except under extraordinary circumstances. Demobilization of Salvadoran military forces generally proceeded on schedule throughout the process. The Treasury Police and National Guard were abolished, and military intelligence functions were transferred to civilian control. By 1993--9 months ahead of schedule--the military had cut personnel from a wartime high of 63,000 to the level of 32,000 required by the peace accords. By 1999, ESAF strength stood at less than 15,000, including uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, consisting of personnel in the army, navy, and air force. A purge of military officers accused of human rights abuses and corruption was completed in 1993 in compliance with the Ad Hoc Commission's recommendations.

National Civilian Police

The new civilian police force, created to replace the discredited public security forces, deployed its first officers in March 1993, and was present throughout the country by the end of 1994. As of 1999, the PNC had over 18,000 officers. The United States, through the Department of Justice's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), has led international support for the PNC and the National Public Security Academy (ANSP), providing more than $30 million in nonlethal equipment and training since 1992. The Justice Department's ICITAP program plans to spend $1.5 million on assistance to the PNC in 2000. The ICITAP mission is to help the ANSP and the PNC to develop more experience in police techniques and procedures and assist with the development of an efficient operation and administration.

The PNC faces many challenges in building a completely new police force. With common crime rising dramatically since the end of the war, over 500 PNC officers had been killed in the line of duty by late 1998. PNC officers also have arrested a number of their own in connection with various high-profile crimes, and a "purification" process to weed out unfit personnel from throughout for force was undertaken late in 2000. U.S. assistance--about $1.2 million--is critical in helping start innovative community policing programs that attack the gang problem head-on, training criminal investigators and improving the training of police supervisors.

Land Transfers

More than 35,000 eligible beneficiaries from among the former guerrillas and soldiers who fought the war received land under the Peace Accord-mandated land transfer program which ended in January 1997. The majority of them also have received agricultural credits. The international community, the Salvadoran Government, the former rebels, and the various financial institutions involved in the process continue to work closely together to deal with follow-on issues resulting from the program.

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