Widgets Magazine
Widgets Magazine
Widgets Magazine

id: 185720

date: 1/5/2009 14:21


origin: Embassy San Salvador

classification: CONFIDENTIAL






DE RUEHSN #0002/01 0051421


P 051421Z JAN 09










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E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/17/2018





Classified By: The Ambassador, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)


1. (C) Summary: The January 18, 2009 Salvadoran legislative

and municipal elections promise to have profound effects on

the balance of power in the country.  The (left-wing) FMLN

party is likely poised to gain between three and five seats

in the 84-member Legislative Assembly, positioning it to

substantially increase its influence.  The (center-right,

pro-U.S.) ARENA party could lose seats, placing it in a

position in which it can no longer form a majority through

coalition only with the (right-wing) National Conciliation

Party (PCN).  The PCN seems set to maintain a similar number

of seats in the Assembly, and is currently negotiating with

the FMLN on a future alliance.  The (center-right) Christian

Democratic Party (PDC) is projected to gain a seat or two,

possibly giving it enough seats to form a majority when

allied with the FMLN, and thereby increasing the PDC's power

while undermining the bargaining position of the PCN.


2. (C) Summary, continued:  In municipal elections, the race

for mayor of San Salvador is hotly contested.  The FMLN

incumbent and ARENA challenger are neck-and-neck.  In the

other larger cities, Santa Ana is a close three-way battle,

while San Miguel and Santa Tecla seem set to re-elect their

respective incumbents.  The closer races, particularly that

of San Salvador, have the potential to spark post-election

violence.  End Summary.


3. (SBU) El Salvador's legislative and municipal elections

will take place on January 18, 2009.  For legislative

elections, political parties submit ranked lists of

candidates by Department for the 84 seats in the Legislative

Assembly.  (Note: El Salvador has 14 Departments.)  As the

parties win seats in a given Department, names from those

lists fill the seats in ranked order.  All political parties

have now released their lists of candidates.


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ARENA Seeks Damage Control in Legislative Elections

--------------------------------------------- ------


4. (SBU) ARENA currently holds 34 seats in the Legislative

Assembly and seems likely to lose some seats in January's

legislative elections.  If everything were to fall into place

for ARENA, the party could make slight gains, but its upper

limit would be 35 or 36 seats.  If ARENA were to gain any

seats, they would not be due to increased support, but rather

from a loss of power by the smaller parties.  Based on

December Borges and Associates poll statistics, news daily El

Diario de Hoy projected December 16 that ARENA would control

32 to 34 seats.


5. (C) Based on the party's submitted candidate list, 32 to

34 seats would result in 50 to 55 percent turnover.

Political analyst Joaquin Samayoa told us December 16 that

the ARENA list represents a slight overhaul, but that the

party cannot afford to fully clean house because its

presidential candidate, Rodrigo Avila, does not have enough

public support. (Comment: As such, ARENA is torn between

trying to shed its image as an insider's club and changing

too much, thereby eroding its support base. End Comment.)


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FMLN Sees Ample Opportunity in Legislative Elections

--------------------------------------------- -------


6. (SBU) The FMLN currently holds 32 seats in the Legislative

Assembly.  The party is also likely to hold at least as many

seats after January's elections.  The FMLN has the potential

to make some gains, but it seems almost impossible to reach

the 43 seats that it would need to hold a simple majority.

Some in the FMLN have expressed hope they can secure as many

as 39 seats, though the 34 to 36 range is more probable.  El

Diario de Hoy projects 35 to 37 seats for the FMLN, based on

the Borges polling data.


7. (C) According to these figures and the candidate list

submitted by the FMLN, the party would have 55 to 60 percent

turnover in its Legislative Assembly representation.  This

figure does not represent an ideological shift, however.

Many of the names will change, but they will be replaced by

names that have been deeply involved in the FMLN's activities

and structure for many years.  A key issue in the FMLN

campaign has been the party's portrayal of itself as more

moderate.  Its main evidence of this has been the selection

of Mauricio Funes as its candidate for President.  However,

very little else in the FMLN,s slate of candidates has

indicated a shift of the party's position.  For example, in


the Department of San Salvador, the FMLN is projected to win

twelve seats in the Legislative Assembly.  Of these twelve,

six of the current group of twelve would retain their

positions.  The remaining six would include Medardo Gonzalez,

current leader of the party (and a former guerilla

commander); Norma Guevara, current member of the party policy

committee; Orestes Ortez, advisor of the Alba Petroleos fuel

agreement with Venezuela; and Lorena Pena, current Deputy in

the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).  The absence of

one of the more extreme left legislators, Salvador Arias, is

the only indication of Funes, influence on the slate of



8. (C) The FMLN has no false hopes that it will reach the 43

seat majority.  FMLN Deputy Hugo Martinez told us December 15

that they expect between 35 and 40.  However, the FMLN also

realizes that any gains made represent significant

opportunity.  In past elections, the PCN has held the third

largest number of smaller party legislative seats.  In recent

years, the PCN has always aligned itself with ARENA.

However, FMLN Deputy Walter Duran, to the visible displeasure

of Martinez, told us December 15 that the FMLN has been

negotiating an alliance with the PCN.



Smaller Parties: A Potential Power Shift



9. (C) Classically, the balance of power among the three

smaller parties, the PCN, the PDC, and the (center-left)

Party for Democratic Change (CD), has been the PCN.  In

recent years, the PCN has held disproportionate power, as it

has had enough legislative seats (10) to form a majority when

allied with ARENA and approach a majority if allied with the

FMLN.  The party has essentially been able to hold either of

the bigger parties hostage until it achieves its own goals.

Joaquin Samayoa was very critical of the PCN.  He told us

December 16 that the PCN is the party that is most

susceptible to outside influences, particularly those of

organized crime, and that this makes them extremely

dangerous.  Based on the Borges poll data the PCN seems

likely to win 8 or 9 seats in the Legislative Assembly in

January, which would give it the ability to partner with the

FMLN to create a majority.  This is significant, as the party

will likely no longer have a sufficient number of deputies to

ally with ARENA for a majority.


10. (C) An interesting new wrinkle in this story is the

potentially stronger showing of the PDC.  If the FMLN and the

PDC both reach their projected numbers of seats (37 and 6,

respectively), they could have enough deputies to have an

allied majority without the intervention of the PCN.  This

would dramatically shift the balance of power between the

parties.  The PCN would no longer have free reign, and the

PDC would see a substantial increase in bargaining power.


11. (SBU) The third small party, CD, is projected to win zero

Assembly seats in the 2009 elections.  A fourth small party,

the (center-left) Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), has

entered the fray, but is not likely to win anything beyond

one or two small mayoral races.  Neither the CD nor the FDR

will be in any position of influence.


12. (C) According to the Salvadoran Constitution and

Electoral Code, the PCN, PDC, and CD parties should not exist

today.  None has met the minimum percentage of the vote in

the most recent elections to continue to function as a

registered party.  The Supreme Court, nevertheless, has opted

to allow the parties to continue to function.  (Comment:

Neither ARENA nor the FMLN has protested this decision,

presumably because each is terrified that the other could

achieve a simple majority in the Legislative Assembly.  End




Municipal Races of Note



13. (SBU) There are several significant municipal elections

that will also be decided in January.  The marquee race is

that of the capital, San Salvador, in which the incumbent

FMLN mayor, Violeta Menjivar, is engaged in a heated battle

with ARENA challenger Norman Quijano.  While the population

of San Salvador slightly favors the FMLN, many are unhappy

with the job that Menjivar has done over the past three

years.  Some poll figures (IUDOP, La Prensa Grafica) indicate

that Menjivar holds a slight advantage in the race, but

others (Borge and Associates) show a tight battle.  Menjivar


originally won her position in 2006 by a remarkable 44-vote



14. (C) Joaquin Samayoa told us he thinks the San Salvador

municipal race has the greatest chance of being the spark

that sets off political violence.  He said it holds explosive

potential due to the close nature of the race; the FMLN is

convinced that Menjivar is assured victory, and should she

lose, forceful allegations of fraud are certain.  He said

this might be enough to ignite social unrest.  TSE Advisor

Luis Peralta echoed the sentiment.


15. (SBU) In San Salvador neighbor-city Santa Tecla, there is

no race of which to speak.  Incumbent FMLN mayor Oscar Ortiz

holds a commanding lead in the polls over ARENA challenger

Sonia de Flores.  The October Borge and Associates poll

showed Ortiz with 42.0 percent of the vote, with only 16.0

percent committing for Flores.  Joaquin Samayoa told us that

Ortiz has governed Santa Tecla well.  The people think he is

very open and addresses their concerns.  Ortiz is a popular

FMLN personality, and flirted with becoming the party's

candidate for President prior to the selection of Mauricio



16. (SBU) Looking east, the uncertainty with the municipal

race in San Miguel is not the identity of the candidate, but

rather the loyalties of that candidate.  The incumbent,

outspoken personality Wilfredo Salgado, while very popular in

San Miguel, is a polarizing figure who has regularly shifted

his party alliance over his political career.  Salgado has

been the mayor of San Miguel since 2000, and in the years

since, has switched parties three times.  He began as a

member of the PDC.  Citing differences with party

authorities, he jumped to the ARENA camp in 2002.  However,

he clashed with current President of El Salvador Elias

Antonio "Tony" Saca, and moved to the PCN when Saca became

President.  This past year, Salgado considered a run for the

Presidency with the PDC, after which the PCN expelled him

from their ranks.


17. (C) Despite the constant movement, the people of San

Miguel have backed Salgado as mayor for nearly a decade,

suggesting they are less concerned with his loyalty to a

party than his loyalty to his constituents.  Despite the 2003

split, ARENA has continued to view Salgado as an ally.

Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) Advisor Luis Peralta told us

December 12 that ARENA recognizes that Salgado is not

currently as popular as he has been in the past.  Recognizing

this, ARENA agreed to run a weaker candidate in San Miguel.

ARENA realizes that it is in the party's interest to not

detract votes from Salgado, as it would risk victory by FMLN

candidate Ricardo Canales.  November La Prensa Grafica poll

statistics show Salgado holding 40.3 percent of likely

voters, with Canales only controlling 14 percent.  Canales'

chances have been hurt by recent domestic violence



18. (C) Outside of San Salvador, Santa Ana is the closest

municipal race among cities of significant size.  The

incumbent, the PDC's Oscar Mena, has substantial competition

from challengers Francisco Polanco (FMLN) and Alfredo Lemus

(ARENA).  November La Prensa Grafica poll statistics give

Polanco 19.3 percent, Mena 18.2 percent, and Lemus 16.8

percent.  Mena, formerly of the FMLN, is currently running as

a joint candidate of the PDC and FDR.  His re-election

efforts have been somewhat undermined by allegations of

corruption.  Joaquin Samayoa told us he thinks that Mena will

persist and eventually win re-election.






19. (C) The legislative and municipal elections could have

two dramatic effects: a change in the course of the

presidential race (Election Day: March 15) and the chance of

social unrest.  The concerns voiced by all sides about the

potential for violence appear justified.  If any significant

race is not won by the party that expects to win, there will

inevitably be accusations of fraud, which can quickly spiral

out of control.  The FMLN appears poised to make significant

gains in the legislative elections.  While a simple majority

is out of reach, the party is a near lock for increased

legislative influence.  This may scare some undecided voters

away from Funes in the subsequent presidential elections.

Many are still afraid of giving power to the FMLN, and

centrist voters may be unwilling to hand the party control of

both the Legislative Assembly and the Presidency, even (or


especially) if control of the Legislative Assembly depends on

a third party.



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