Yes, in 2009…
In the comments to my post on the elections of March, boz notes:
the two parties [ARENA and FMLN] only poll around 30-35% each, which makes me believe there is a large segment of the population dissatisfied with both parties and waiting for some sort of realignment.
I agree with boz on the latter point, although it is worth noting that each party has been right there in that 1/3 range in each of the last three congressional elections, so the current campaign polls are perfectly consistent with Salvadoran postwar voting patterns.
Where I disagree is where boz, in the comment, situates his expectation for “some sort of realignment” in the context of suggesting that the FMLN might have been “set for a big loss a few months ago,” only to recover after the death of former war leader (and 2004 presidential candidate) Shafk Handal. While I agree that the inherent conditions for a realignment are present, I disagree that 2006 could have been that opportunity, whatever the polls might have said before Handal’s death, and even were Handal (a real dinosaur of a political leader) still alive today.
No doubt the Salvadoran electorate has lots of unaligned and disillusioned voters. Nonetheless, while I could imagine an alternative breaking through in a presidential election from outside ARENA & FMLN, I can’t imagine it in a nonconcurrent congressional election (like the one coming up). The next elections after these, in 2009, will be the once-every-fifteen years concurrent contests. If anyone is going to realign this war-hangover of a party system, 2009 is the year.
Politically organized and active El Salvador is otherwise fundamentally one third ARENA, one third FMLN, and one third various center and other formations. I can’t explain those polls that had ARENA pulling well ahead of the FMLN, but often in certain countries, even through the twists and turns of everyday politics and between-election events (like leaders’ deaths), the country’s politics always manages to return to the fundamentals. Those “certain countries” are those with well institutionalized party systems, and El Salvador is one of those countries. If anything, its parties (the two main ones, anyway) are over-institutionalized. By which I mean they are rigidly tied to their old ways of organizing (FMLN much more so than ARENA). That very rigidity, plus public disillusionment with high crime and other problems, could result in a challenge breaking through one day, but again, if it is going to change, 2009 is the year. It was never likely that 2006, with no presidential contest, was it.