As the polls predicted, the Salvadorian electorate punished the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, granting an important victory to the opposition, the ARENA party, and handing a stunning defeat to president Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
The legislative and municipal elections on Sunday, March 4, were characterized by significant electoral abstention, with a participation of 45.8% of registered voters; the figure represents the lowest voter turnout since 2009.
Although the final results will be trickling in over the next 48 hours, the counted ballots thus far indicate an irreversible trend, in which ARENA is dominating by a wide margin in the election of deputies, doubling the votes of the FMLN.
The opposition party also won the main municipalities of the country, including the mayorship of the country’s largest city San Salvador, which had been held for years by the ruling party. The winner was ARENA’s Ernesto Luis Muyshondt García Prieto.
The preliminary results, which were transmitted live by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), gave the victory to ARENA in nine of the fourteen mayoral offices in El Salvador.
While the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) secured a strong first place showing, two other right-wing parties, placed third and fourth: Great Alliance for National Unity (GANA) and the National Concertation Party (PCN).
According to the official data, ARENA is expected to grow from 35 deputies to between 37 and 39 deputies. The FMLN is expected to lose between 7 and 9 of its 31 deputies. GANA is expected to maintain its current position, with between 10 and 12 deputies, versus its current 11, and the PCN will increase its representation from 6 to 7 or 8. Conservative parties may end up with as many as 59 of the 84 seats.
The ruling FMLN party has recognized its electoral defeat. The Secretary of Communications of the Presidency, Eugenio Chicas, said, during a television interview, that the FMLN understood “the message of the electorate, and is taking notes to see where it is necessary to improve.”
The elections this Sunday were key for Sánchez Cerén’s government because his political stability was at stake; in fact, many analysts considered that said the elections amounted to a kind of “referendum” against the current president.
Sánchez Cerén, of the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN), has governed by adhering to the principles of free-market economics, but he has not hidden his sympathy for the governments of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. In fact, he was one of the few presidents in the region or the world who congratulated Ortega for his electoral “triumph” in November, which generated considerable controversy over allegations of voter fraud.
Asdrúbal Vargas, Director of Public Affairs at CLC GLOBAL and Coordinator of Youth of the Alliance for Central America, told the PanAm Post that these results will force Sánchez Cerén to work towards a consensus government, as his party is now significantly weakened in the legislative branch.
For his part, Eduardo Escobar, coordinator of the Citizen Action Transparency and Democracy Monitoring Center, told the PanAm Post that based on the preliminary results, the political scenario for the last year of Sánchez Cerén’s mandate has now changed.
Now governing will be more difficult, and the ruling party faces an uncertain path forward as they seek to hold on to the presidency.
“What we are talking about is the possibility that if ARENA could win the 2019 presidential elections, the government will now have a legislative assembly in its favor,” he noted.
The Salvadorian left will now face significant difficulties in thwarting ARENA’s legislative agenda.
“With these results, the FMLN will be dispensable and will not be able to impede the efforts of the majority coalition, so the right-wing parties will be able to make simple majority decisions without the need to go to the ruling party,” he explained.
For Escobar, this Sunday’s elections showed that there is great discontent with government management.
“It could be said that the great loser was Salvador Sánchez Cerén,” he claimed.
The director of Acción Ciudadana explained that now if the president vetoes a law, the legislative coalition will have a sufficient supermajority to override that veto.
“Now the power of the president over the legislative branch becomes irrelevant; the FMLN will now be dispensable when it comes to decisions such as the election of the judges of the Supreme Court of Justice, the court of accounts of the Republic, the election of the Attorney General, et cetera,” he concluded.
In the face of the overwhelming victory of the right in El Salvador, mockery and memes on social media were key, as a series of humorous caricatures reveled in the defeat of the ruling FMLN party.
Por lo que se aprecia hasta este momento, ARENA les lleva una ventaja del 75% en conteo de votos, hasta este momento.
No hay ni una JRV en la que el fmln haya sacado más votos que ARENA.
? @FMLNoficial FUERA DE EL SALVADOR pic.twitter.com/emotHxapDC
— ROBERTO PALOMO (@ROBERTO30121614) March 5, 2018