El Salvador Blog: Presidential Elections in Nuevo Gualcho

In Nuevo Gualcho, the community where I am living, red flags of the left-wing party FMLN line the streets. I am told there is only one family out of the 500 that live here who won’t be voting for them.

I ask the local volunteers, why does no one vote for the other right-wing parties? They tell me that FMLN, who are currently in power, is the only party dedicated to social development and to the often ignored campesinos (people who live in rural areas and usually work on the land).

On Sunday 2nd February, El Salvador will hold its Presidential elections. Whilst the results will be known by the time this blog is published, the likelihood is that it will go to a second round on 9th March, between the two top parties.

So who are the main candidates?

FMLN are a left-wing party originally formed from several groups of guerrillas during the civil war, who were legitimised as a political party with the peace accords. The party has been in power for the last five years, after being elected for the first time with Mauricio Funes.

The President is a journalist who didn’t fight in the civil war; a tactic to make the party more appealing to those sceptical about its guerrilla roots. As Presidents can’t be elected to a second consecutive term, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, this time a former guerrilla commander, will be their candidate - with policies focusing on increasing employment, security and education.

The FMLN is making efforts to reduce the gang’s violence in the country, leading opposition party ARENA to accuse them of corruption and weakness towards the gangs.

ARENA is a right-wing party that was in power during the civil war. Their leader is San Salvador’s mayor Norman Quijano, who pledges to increase security and eliminate the gangs, as well as economic reform for 100% employment levels and a change in law for equal pay for women.

The third largest party is UNIDAD, a coalition between the parties GANA, the Christian Democratic Party and the National Conciliation Party. Running for them is Antonio Saca, who was President with ARENA, before FMLN’s Mauricio Funes term. Whilst he was popular during his presidency and introduced some successful programs such as income supplements to encourage women to work, he has also been accused of accused of corruption and money laundering. Due to this he was forced to leave ARENA and is now running for UNIDAD. He has pledged to cut the red tape for investment from foreign companies.

I ask Roselia, a mother from one of the host families, why does everyone vote for FMLN in Nuevo Gualcho? She tells me that she and the people here will always be left wing because of their horrific experiences of the civil war.

According to her, during the 80s the ruling party ARENA became afraid of poorer people and started to forbid people in the countryside from getting together in groups of even two or three people, in case they organised against them.

This came at a time when the US supported any anti-communist parties. The military, which was commanded by the government, started to murder people suspected of guerrilla activity; during the civil war many massacres took place.

Roselia has several experiences of this violence, just one being when her sister was murdered in front of her house, her children waiting inside for her return, for refusing to give up her husband’s whereabouts. Roselia tells me this is just one story of many murders and massacres that people in certain rural areas experienced, and for that reason she will never vote for ARENA.

By the time this blog is published, the results of the elections will already be out. Although FMLN has so far been the favourite in the polls, ARENA is also in a strong position (outside of Nuevo Gualcho, of course).

I ask my friend Henry what would happen if ARENA or UNIDAD won? He tells me, “They just won’t”.

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