Record Social Spending Gives FMLN the Lead over ARENA in Polls

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Happy New Year, friends of CISPES! As we say goodbye to 2012, Salvadorans are celebrating it as the country’s best year yet for social investment. Analysts credit this unprecedented spending for the fact that the governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party has now overtaken the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in all recent polling for the 2014 presidential elections.

In 2012, El Salvador’s first progressive government spent $833.4 million of the national budget on social programs and infrastructure. Of this record amount, $354.7 million went to programs like the National Health Reform, the Family Agriculture Plan, the Scholastic Packets program, and the National Literacy Program. Another $478.7 million was invested in infrastructure and construction projects.

These FMLN-led programs and projects have been aimed primarily at serving the nation’s rural poor, one of the most marginalized sectors of Salvadoran society and one that has been historically characterized as extremely conservative. In 2005, the FMLN polled at 10% among rural voters while ARENA polled at 27.2% in this demographic. In November 2012, the leftist party saw an historic rise to 32.8% and support for ARENA fell to 22.3%.

This shift in political preference is understandable considering the impacts the current administration’s record investment had in 2012 alone: a 25% increase in the corn harvest from 2011 to 2012, the construction of 41 Community Family Health Clinics; over 37,000 Salvadorans, 71% of them women, learned to read and write; and 1.4 million students in impoverished communities received free school uniforms, the manufacturing of which generated some 55,000 jobs in small and medium businesses and cooperatives, many of them women-led.

As the February 2014 presidential elections approach, both the FMLN and ARENA are beginning 2013 by gearing up their campaigns. With the FMLN candidate, current Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, promising to continue and expand their popular social programs, unheard of under past ARENA administrations, the right-wing party’s chances for recapturing the executive office are greatly imperiled.

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