ARENA bleeding members as elections near

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On Thursday, September 26, Walter Araujo, the magistrate representing the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party on El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the institution that oversees all electoral policy and procedure, officially renounced his party affiliation, joining the growing number of prominent ARENA leaders to abandon the party. Araujo, who was elected to the TSE by the National Legislative Assembly in 2009, will serve through the 2014 presidential elections. ARENA has filed a request for Araujo’s recusal from the tribunal for the elections-related decisions.

Tensions began between Araujo and ARENA this spring when the magistrate publicly criticized the party leadership on Twitter and worsened when Araujo later announced that he would not support the ARENA’s presidential candidate, Norman Quijano. After last week’s dramatic display of ARENA’s ongoing internal crisis, ARENA claims that Araujo’s renunciation effectively leaves the party without representation on the TSE, although Araujo stated that he would leave party-related decisions to his alternate, Magistrate Douglas Alas. With just over five months to the February elections, Araujo’s move has further fueled Quijano's strident and baseless warnings of the left wing party’s plans to commit electoral fraud.

Araujo’s announcement was soon followed by that of Ernesto Panamá, a founding member of the party and once the right-hand man of ARENA founder, Major Roberto D’Abuisson. On September 30, the 32nd anniversary of the birth of ARENA, Panamá announced that he was joining the right-wing UNITY coalition’s bid to re-elect former president Tony Saca, who himself was part of the first wave of ARENA party expulsions and defections after the Funes presidential victory in 2009. These two major blows happened within a week of the official campaign period opening on Wednesday, October 2, casting a shadow over Quijano’s campaign, while bolstering Saca’s. Current polls show ARENA and the FMLN running roughly head to head, with UNITY trailing significantly.

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