Election Bulletin #1: Legislative Elections in Limbo, While Elites Attack the Institution of Political Parties

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On November 7, the Supreme Court forced the Legislative Assembly back to the drawing board to re-write the election rules again, keeping the process for the elections set for just 4 months away on shaky ground. The Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) declared unconstitutional various electoral reforms approved by the Legislative Assembly regarding independent candidates and vote counting procedures for March's legislative elections. The Assembly was obligated to legislate those reforms by the extremely controversial 2010 Supreme Court rulings to allow independent (no-party) candidates and individual party members to be elected to the Assembly, rather than voting for a party. The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party and social movement organizations have denounced these rulings for attacking El Salvador's system of political parties at the moment when the leftist FMLN party is the strongest, most popular political party. Independent of the impact on the FMLN, critics of CSJ rulings also assert that de-emphasizing the role of political parties in general serves to erode the basic concept of collective organization and collective vision. The Legislative Assembly is currently determining what changes to Salvadoran electoral code must be implemented to fulfill the latest round of Supreme Court rulings. Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) president and FMLN representative Eugenio Chicas has expressed concern that so many changes to the electoral process so close to the elections will make educating poll workers and voters extremely difficult. He has called on civil society groups to actively support the TSE in its voter education campaigns. Over a dozen independent candidates for the Legislative Assembly have registered to date, with the majority backed by two new groups: the Movement for Participatory Democracy (MDP) and the Movement of Independent Politicians (MPI). The MDP was formed following the CSJ ruling on independent candidates by Dagoberto Gutierrez, the Vice Rector of the Salvadoran Lutheran University and intellectual force behind the radical leftist formation the Revolutionary Tendency (TR), which has criticized the FMLN from the left since its inception. The majority of organizations and individuals that make up the MDP are also in the TR. The MPI appeared shortly after the Supreme Court legalized independent candidacies, when the nascent organization of Salvadorans living abroad held a press conference announcing its plans to finance and support independent candidacies. Very little information is available about the MPI in terms of politics, funding and membership. The primary concern raised by social movement groups regarding independent candidates has been that the financing needed to run a successful campaign restricts the pool of candidates to those who are either wealthy themselves or supported by wealthy backers, who are then able to exert influence from behind the scenes. The FMLN and social movement organizations have also expressed concern that the great push for independent candidacies is an attempt by the economic elite to maintain its influence in the Legislative Assembly now that the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), the party that has represented it for the past 22 years, is poised to lose more seats.

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