Scanning El Salvador's 2009 Electoral Horizon: The FMLN Nominates Mauricio Funes


Scanning El Salvador's 2009 Electoral Horizon: The FMLN Nominates Mauricio Funes


Written by Jason Wallach
As the US political juggernaut gears up for the primarybattles that will define the 2008 Presidential election here, El Salvadoransare already fixing sights on their own 2009 race to replace President AntonioSaca.

The Salvadoran constitution forbids standing presidentsfrom running for re-election, so mark your calendars! Salvadorans will electCongressional deputies, and local mayors in January 2009. The presidentialcontest will take place in March. The candidate/ political party drama is justas juicy in El Salvador as is in the US, and for Central Americans, the stakesare high.

Last week, the Political Commission of the FarabundoMarti National Liberation Front (FMLN)the inner voice of the partyshatteredmonths of anticipation and announced that it would recommend Mauricio Funes torepresent the partys Presidential ticket. Funes is a popular political commentatorand talk show host who gained a national audienceand followingthrough theconstruction of a patchwork quilt of daily TV and radio broadcasts onsecond-tier media outlets throughout the country. Most major TV channels areowned and/or operated by Telecorporación Salvadoreña (TCS), which has closeties to the ARENA party and the Saca government. Despite Funes popularity andnational appeal, TCS refused to broadcast his program.

For VP, the FMLN Commission proposed historic FMLN leaderSalvador Sanchez Ceren. With the gesture, the matter now rests with the FMLNsNational Council, which is comprised of local elected officials and partyactivists throughout the country. The Council is almost sure to back thenominations.

The Funes/Ceren announcement comes after months ofinternal party consultation and the stiff-arming of an inquisitive andsometimes intrusive press. Grassroots progressive forces had long cast theirlot with Funes, who will turned 49 on October 18th. More than a month ago, theSalvadoran Union Front (FSS in Spanish), comprised of 27 mostly public sectorunions, proclaimed its support for a potential Funes candidacy. The PopularSocial Block (BPS) followed a few days later when leader Guadalupe Erazowho isalso an alternate FMLN deputy in El Salvadors LegislativeAssembly--held a press conference a few days later.

Funes was later named an official pre-candidatea titlereserved for Funes alone. The moniker was ostensibly forged by the party to buytime around what was becoming an evermore distracting wave of popular supportcraning to know if their candidate had support inside the FMLN's inner circle,the Political Commission. But as rumors swarmed, Funes initiated a series ofcampaign-style trips, touching base with Salvadoran ex-pat strongholds in Los Angeles, upstate New Yorkand Washington, DC.

An early September trip to Sao Paolo had Funes lookingalmost presidential as he squared up with Brazilian President Ignacio Lula deSilva.

Days later, CNN International announced that it hadsevered its contract with Funes, where he occasionally offered commentary onregional issues. Salvadoran Channel 21 cut Funes popular daily show TheInterview with Mauricio Funes from its programming. Channel 15, which alsobroadcasts The Interview, said it would not renew its contract with therising star. Neither Funes nor station management would reveal the broadcaststerminal date. The wave of terminations were received much differently thanFunes' abrupt firing by Channel 12 a few years ago.

The 2009 election marks a watershed political moment for El Salvador,which ended a bloody 12-year civil war in 1992 with the signing of a peace pactbetween FMLN rebels and the US-backed government and army. The election marksthe first time since the FMLNs initial foray electoral that Congressional andmayoral races-decided every three years- will coincide with the Presidentialvote decided every five years.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) set the stage inJune when it ruled, in accordance with the ruling ARENA party position, thatthe 2009 elections should be split over two separate days. Under theTSE-approved scenario, 262 municipal mayors and 84 congressional deputies willbe elected on January 18. The presidential contest will be held on March 15.

ARENA representatives had a difficult time arguing theirposition on the issue. Arena pundits sent to the media to explain it grumbledabout how the Salvadoran electorate would make more sense of the election cycleif they were clear about what they were voting for. Why a single well-labeledballot couldnt accomplish that goal was left unclear. The FMLN favoredconcentrating all races onto a single ballot, a move that would save at least$4.1 million (and a whole lot of logistics of not having to motivate people togo to the polls twice.) But, said FMLN reps, they will play by whatever rulesare meted out.

It is unclear which of the two major parties wouldbenefit from the two-election scenario. Pundits widely agreed that smallerparties, like the right-leaning PDC, would suffer since they had leanerelection-oriented organizations at their disposal.

Meanwhile, major players within ARENA simultaneouslytried to take aim at Funes while positioning themselves for what is sure to bea knock-down, drag out internal battle within the party founded by former deathsquad leader, Roberto DAubuisson. Piggybacking off the attention given to theFunes announcement, El Salvadors Vice President and former USAID functionary, AnaVilma de Escobar, announced her intention to become the Arena nominee, butwithout much fanfare within the party. Few observers lend her candidacy muchseriousness.

Rene Figueroa, Minister of Public Security and Justice,has also thrown his hat into the ring. He is also Vice President for Ideologyfor ARENA and the former Minister of the Interior. Considered by some USsolidarity activists to be the Karl Rove of El Salvador, Figueroa iswell-known for his implementation of the Iron Fist policies targeted at theMS and 18th Streetgangs. He is considered the intellectual author of the anti-terrorismlegislation, passed in late 2006.

Along with Felix Safie, the Attorney General, Figueroahas pressed hard for the prosecution of 13 activists under the terrorlegislation. The 13 were arrested on July 2nd at a protest against PresidentSacas unveiling of a national program to further privatize various publicservices, including water. Figueroa took issue with a recent UN report that wascritical of the Salvadoran criminal justice system and which found that only 3%of murders in El Salvadorresult in successful prosecutions.




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