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World > North America > El Salvador > Government and Political Conditions (Notes)

El Salvador - Government and Political Conditions (Notes)


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
El Salvador is a democratic republic governed by a president and an 84-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. The president is elected by universal suffrage and serves for a 5-year term by absolute majority vote. A second round runoff is required in the event that no candidate receives more than 50% of the first round vote. Members of the assembly, also elected by universal suffrage, serve for 3-year terms. The country has an independent judiciary and Supreme Court. The next elections will be held in February and March 2009.

Political Landscape
Hard-line conservatives, including some members of the military, created the Nationalist Republican Alliance party (ARENA) in 1981. ARENA almost won the election in 1984 with solid private sector and rural farmer support. By 1989, ARENA had attracted the support of business groups. Multiple factors contributed to ARENA victories in the 1988 legislative and 1989 presidential elections, including allegations of corruption in the ruling Christian Democratic party, poor relations with the private sector, and historically low prices for the nation's main agricultural exports.

The successes of Alfredo Cristiani's 1989-94 administration in achieving a peace agreement to end the civil war and in improving the nation's economy helped ARENA--led by former San Salvador mayor Armando Calderon Sol--keep both the presidency and a working majority in the Legislative Assembly in the 1994 elections. ARENA's legislative position was weakened in the 1997 elections, but it recovered its strength, helped by divisions in the opposition, in time for another victory in the 1999 presidential race, bringing President Francisco Guillermo Flores Perez to office. Flores concentrated on modernizing the economy and strengthening bilateral relations with the U.S. by becoming a committed partner in anti-terror efforts, sending troops to aid in the reconstruction of Iraq, and by playing a key role in negotiations for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

Taking advantage of both public apprehension of Flores' policies and ARENA infighting, the chief opposition party, the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), was able to score a significant victory against ARENA in the March 2003 legislative and municipal elections. ARENA, left with only 29 seats in the 84-seat Legislative Assembly, was forced to court the right-wing National Conciliation Party (PCN) in order to form a majority voting bloc. However, in 2003 the PCN entered into a loose partnership with the FMLN, further limiting ARENA's ability to maneuver in the legislature.

Despite these constraints, ARENA made a strong showing at the March 2004 presidential election, which was marked by an unprecedented 67% voter turnout. ARENA candidate Elias 'Tony' Saca handily defeated the FMLN candidate and party head Schafik Handal, garnering 57.71% of the votes cast. Nevertheless, Saca faced a complex political environment.
The defeat of FMLN's presidential candidate rekindled an FMLN internal struggle between party hardliners and more moderate party members who saw the party's 2004 defeat as a call for reform. In addition, the PCN and the two parties that comprise the center/center-left coalition, the United Democratic Center (CDU) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC), faced dissolution for failing to each capture at least 3% of the votes. Members of all three parties, whose deputies continued to hold seats in the legislature, publicly discussed creating new parties or aligning with existing ones.

In March 12, 2006 Legislative Assembly and municipal elections, the ruling ARENA party garnered 34 Assembly deputies and 147 mayoralties, while the opposition FMLN won 32 legislative seats and 51 city halls (plus 8 additional mayoralties in which they participated as part of a coalition). The PCN, PDC, and CD carried 10, 6, and 2 Legislative Assembly seats, respectively. As with the 2003-2006 Assembly, the combined 44 seats of ARENA and their center-right PCN allies are sufficient for all legislation requiring a 43-vote simple majority, while the FMLN can still block legislation requiring a two-thirds (56 vote) supermajority. El Salvador's political parties have already begun preparation and planning for 2009, when presidential, Legislative Assembly, and municipal elections will be held simultaneously for the first time since 1994.

Human Rights and Post-War Reforms
During the 12-year civil war, human rights violations by both the government security forces and left-wing guerillas were rampant. The accords established a Truth Commission under UN auspices to investigate the most serious cases. The commission reported its findings in 1993. It recommended that those identified as human rights violators be removed from all government and military posts. Thereafter, the Legislative Assembly granted amnesty for political crimes committed during the war. Among those freed as a result were the Salvadoran Armed Forces (ESAF) officers convicted in the November 1989 Jesuit murders and the FMLN ex-combatants held for the 1991 murders of two U.S. servicemen. The peace accords also established the Ad Hoc Commission to evaluate the human rights record of the ESAF officer corps.

In accordance with the peace agreements, the constitution was amended to prohibit the military from playing an internal security role except under extraordinary circumstances. Demobilization of Salvadoran military forces generally proceeded on schedule throughout the process. The Treasury Police, National Guard, and National Police were abolished, and military intelligence functions were transferred to civilian control. By 1993--9 months ahead of schedule--the military had cut personnel from a war-time high of 63,000 to the level of 32,000 required by the peace accords. By 1999, ESAF strength stood at less than 15,000, including uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, consisting of personnel in the army, navy, and air force. A purge of military officers accused of human rights abuses and corruption was completed in 1993 in compliance with the Ad Hoc Commission's recommendations. The military's new doctrine, professionalism, and complete withdrawal from political and economic affairs leave it the most respected institution in El Salvador.

More than 35,000 eligible beneficiaries from among the former guerrillas and soldiers who fought the war received land under the peace accord-mandated land transfer program, which ended in January 1997. The majority of them also have received agricultural credits. The international community, the Salvadoran Government, the former rebels, and the various financial institutions involved in the process continue to work closely together to deal with follow-on issues resulting from the program.

National Civilian Police
The civilian police force, created to replace the discredited public security forces, deployed its first officers in March 1993, and was present throughout the country by the end of 1994. The National Civilian Police (PNC) has about 16,000 officers. The United States, through the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), led international support for the PNC and the National Public Security Academy (ANSP), providing about $32 million in non-lethal equipment and training since 1992.

Judiciary
Both the Truth Commission and the Joint Group identified weaknesses in the judiciary and recommended solutions, the most dramatic being the replacement of all the magistrates on the Supreme Court. This recommendation was fulfilled in 1994 when an entirely new court was elected, but weaknesses remain. The process of replacing incompetent judges in the lower courts, and of strengthening the attorney generals' and public defender's offices, has moved more slowly. The government continues to work in all of these areas with the help of international donors, including the United States. Action on peace accord-driven constitutional reforms designed to improve the administration of justice was largely completed in 1996 with legislative approval of several amendments and the revision of the Criminal Procedure Code--with broad political consensus.

Principal Government Officials
President--Elias Antonio 'Tony' SACA
Vice President--Ana Vilma Albanez DE ESCOBAR
Minister of Foreign Relations--Francisco LAINEZ
Ambassador to the United States--Rene Antonio Rodriguez LEON
Representative to the OAS--Abigail CASTRO DE PEREZ
Representative to the UN--Carmen Maria GALLARDO de Hernandez

El Salvador maintains an embassy in the United States at 1400 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20036 (tel: 202-265-9671). There are consulates in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



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Notes and Commentary
People
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Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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