Little change in Salvadoran legislature; capital mayor race in dispute

[UPDATED with new results, 14 March]

Results are not complete in El Salvador’s 12 March election of the 84-seat unicameral Asamblea Legislativa, but the trend is clear. Meanwhile, the San Salvador mayoral race is disputed.

According to El Diário del Hoy, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party of President Antonio Saca appears to have won 34 seats. The Farabundo Martí Front (FMLN) won 32. If these results hold, the right-wing parties will have retained their narrow majority in the assembly, as the other main rightist party, the highly misleadingly named National Conciliación1 (PCN), has won ten seats. Prelimnary results had suggested that the assembly would be evenly divided between the right and the various center-left parties, but ARENA and the PCN together will have one seat more than a majority (if these prove to be the final tallies). The one-time centrist favorite of the Reagan administration, the Christian Democratic party, won six seats, and the center-left Convergencia Democrática won only two.

Compared to 2003, the last legislative election, this is a gain for ARENA (which won 27 then) and also a very small gain for the FMLN (31). As I have noted before (click on “Central America” above to see previous posts), there has been no significant change in the rough parity of these two parties since 1997.2 However, this is the highest number of seats ARENA has had since 1994, as well as the highest ever for the FMLN; however, most of ARENA’s gain has come at the expense of the other rightist party, the PCN. While the PCN has occasionally joined the center-left on votes in the assembly,3 it generally has been a reliable partner for ARENA, which has held the presidency continuously since 1989.

The overall result simply confirms, or even strengthens, the postwar stasis of Salvadoran politics, by which I mean its domination by the two parties that represent the polarized politics of the civil war era. It is, however, by a small margin, the worst showing since the stolen election of 1972 by the combined forces of the right. If only the FMLN could reform itself internally enough to engage in a broad center-left alliance, it could probably help shake the ARENA dominance of the presidency. The next presidential election is in March, 2009 (which will be concurrent with the next assembly and municipal elections).

El Salvador elects its assembly by closed-list PR, mostly in low-magnitude districts. It uses simple quota and largest remainders, which, particularly in the numerous three-seat districts4, is very favorable to the third-largest party, which is almost everywhere the PCN. For example, in 2003, the PCN won 19% of the seats on only 13.1% of the votes. The FMLN, on the other hand, which was the largest party in that election, won 36.9% of the seats on 33.8% of the votes. The FMLN’s advantage ratio was thus 1.09, but the PCN’s was a whopping 1.45! ARENA, the second largest party in 2003, was represented almost exactly proportionally, with 32% of both votes and seats.

The PCN bias of the electoral system has meant an artificial majority for the right, as the combined votes of ARENA+PCN amounted in 2003 to only 45%, yet their seats were a bare majority (51.1%). Votes totals are not yet available for 2006, but given the electoral system’s bias towards that party, it must have fallen off quite far in votes.*

Mayors and municipal councils were also elected. In the most important race, that for mayor of San Salvador, the outcome remains unknown as of this morning. Both the FMLN candidate, Violeta Menjívar, and ARENA’s Rodrigo Samayoa, have claimed victory. One of them must be wrong. The election is by plurality, and the candidates are both hovering near 45% as votes continue to be tabulated.**

*The votes percentages for the three largest parties were 39.4% for ARENA, 11.0% for the PCN, and 39.7% for the FMLN. Thus ARENA was again represented almost proportionally (40% of seats, advantage ratio, A=1.03). This time, however, the PCN was only slightly overrepresented (11.9% seats, A=1.08). The FMLN had a small under-representation (38.1% seats, A=.960). The two right-wing parties combined for 50.4% of the votes and 52.4% of the seats (A=1.04). So, it was not the vote shares of the right-wing parties that fell off from 2003; it was the PCN’s advantage ratio that declined.

** Violeta Menjívar, the FMLN candidate, ended up winning, by a margin of 44 votes (see Tim’s El Salvador Blog).

1. This party was the civilian face of the landowner-military alliance that ruled El Salvador with an iron fist until the emergence of a strong electoral challenge from the combined forces of the left and Christian Democracy, which won the presidency in 1972. The center-left alliance candidate–later US client José Napoleon Duarte–was denied his victory by the military and PCN. From that point on, the left (and even a large portion of Christian Democracy’s base) resorted to armed struggle. The war in turn gave rise to a mass-based and essentially fascist backlash in the form of ARENA, led by notorious death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson. ARENA replaced the PCN as the leading party on the right and has made a rather remarkable transformation in the last decade to a programmatic party of the right, losing the fascist baggage. The FMLN, on the other hand, remains rather nostalgic for the “good old days”, but it is democratic Latin America’s second largest socialist party, after the far more centrist variant in Chile.

2. The two parties’ seats in the triennial legislative elections since the FMLN layed down its arms and ran in 1994 have been (always given here as ARENA-FMLN): 39-21, 28-27, 29-31, 27-31, and now, apparently, 34-32.

3. The most notable case was a bill in 1997 to forgive agrarian debt for the beneficiaries of the US-sponsored agrarian reform of the 1980s. Every party in the assembly voted for the debt forgiveness, with the exception of ARENA. The president vetoed the bill, and ARENA held at the time exactly one third of the seats. By maintaining perfect party discipline, it was able to prevent an override of the veto, and hence a historic opportunity for broad center-left cooperation on one of El Salvador’s most pressing policy questions was lost.

4. Sixty four seats are allocated in fourteen districts, for an average of 4.6 seats per district, and another 20 are allocated in parallel (i.e., non-compensatory) in a single nationwide district. Eight of the departmental districts have exactly three seats each, and the largest, San Salvador, has 16. (These are 2003 magnitudes; I am unaware as to whether there was a redistribution for 2006.)

4 thoughts on “Little change in Salvadoran legislature; capital mayor race in dispute

  1. Pingback: Fruits and Votes

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  3. Pingback: El Salvador joins the panachage ranks, president’s party holds steady | Fruits and Votes

  4. Pingback: Salvadoran assembly election, 2018 | Fruits and Votes

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