In contrast to the euphoria of the South African Left, occasioned by the election of Nelson Mandela, El Salvador's national runoff election in April, following twelve years of civil war, resulted in little jubilation for the opposition Left. For them, the March election and the runoff were a great disappointment.

In both rounds their candidate for president, Ruben Zamora, was outpolled two-to-one by the governing right-wing ARENA party's Armando Calderon Sol. At the local level as well, the Left's candidates fared poorly, winning only 15 mayoralties to ARENA's 207. Even in areas known as "control zones" during the civil war—regions where the guerrillas claimed widespread popular support—the rebels-turned-politicians found that in most towns their supposed supporters voted for someone else, usually the ARENA candidate.

Initially the national assembly looked like one bright spot for the FMLN, the party of the former guerillas, and for the Democratic Convergence (DC), Zamora's party. The two parties had formed a coalition to support Zamora's presidential bid, and won twenty-two seats in the assembly (twenty-one for the FMLN, one for the DC). This put them in second place behind ARENA (thirty-nine seats), and ahead of the Christian Democrats' eighteen seats. But the achievement and its promise were short-lived, making President Alfredo Cristiani look prophetic. On the night of the runoff, he had predicted that as soon as the FMLN actually got into the assembly, its unity would crumble. On May 1, at the first session of the new assembly, FMLN deputies split over how to respond to a parliamentary maneuver approved in the closing days of the previous assembly. That maneuver gave ARENA an absolute majority in the assembly's directorate, even though it had not won an absolute majority of seats in the assembly.

The FMLN called the maneuver a violation of the assembly's principle of proportional representation. Three of the FMLN's five member-groups said that the FMLN should boycott participating in the directorate, even though it was entitled to at least two positions. The two other FMLN groups disagreed with the boycott, and when the assembly opened, they voted for the ARENA candidate for assembly president. In return, ARENA supported their two candidates for the directorate. After a week of ugly internal charges and countercharges of "traitor" and "radical," a specially convened FMLN assembly declared that the two deputies elected to the directorate were not to be considered representatives of the FMLN. Left open for the time being was whether the two groups would withdraw from or be expelled by the party.

During the campaign, questions were raised about the remaining parts of the United Nations-brokered peace accords: Would they be carried out after the election? Concern was so high that late in the campaign Calderon Sol stated explicitly that he was pledged to implementing the accords.

Those monitoring the accords have been worried in particular about the shortcomings in the overhaul of El Salvador's police system mandated by the peace settlement. The process for creating a new National Civilian Police (PNC) is behind schedule, and according to some opposition leaders, the new PNC's structure and personnel are dominated by holdovers from the old and feared national security apparatus of the civil-war days. That apparatus, which human rights groups regularly linked to El Salvador's right-wing death squads, was supposed to be abolished under the accords.

The critics' charges found support in a recent report to the Security Council by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros­Ghali. The report said that ONUSAL, the UN observer mission in El Salvador, has "observed a considerable imbalance" in the PNC in favor of members of the old security forces. "All these imbalances," said the report, "run counter to the letter and the spirit of the peace accords and need to be urgently redressed in order to avoid further militarization of the new civil police."

In an angry denial, Salvadoran Army General Mauricio Vargas said Boutros-Ghali's report had "a high content of imperial arrogance" and that "the militarization of the PNC ...doesn't exist." But others insist it has long existed. Late last year, at a critical point in the implementation of the accords, a key diplomatic source declared that the "civilianization" of the police was not happening. Recently, ONUSAL director Enrique ter Horst acknowledged that the PNC had "drifted away significantly from its original philosophy" that it be "friendly to the citizens and not have the repressive character" of the former security forces. "This is one issue," said ter Horst, "on which we can very well understand the position of the FMLN. It's a position based on the peace accords themselves." Ter Horst expressed hope that "things will be improving" after the recent resignation, reportedly under pressure, of PNC Deputy Director Oscar Peña Duran. Critics said Pena Duran had stuffed the PNC's command level with cronies from the much-feared army unit he headed before moving to the PNC.

On the question of land reform, a key issue in the long civil war, so far only 25 percent of those slated to be beneficiaries of a new transfer program have received land. The remaining transfers are freighted with serious legal problems. In many cases, the original owners do not possess legal titles to their land. To solve this problem, the government has approved special legislation. But if the transfer program fails to move forward, says an FMLN representative, land seizures and evictions may follow and the situation could become explosive.

What is to be expected from Calderon Sol's new ARENA administration? Rightists and leftists—who agree on little else in El Salvador—concur that it is too early to tell. David Escobar Galindo, a confidant of outgoing President Cristiani, feels ARENA is moving away from what he calls its "belligerent conservatism." The party has often been accused of having ties with the death squads, and the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador concluded, after an eight-month investigation, that the party's founder, Roberto D'Aubuisson, was a key death squad figure and had ordered the 1980 murder of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Escobar Galindo believes that Calderon Sol will have problems that Cristiani did not. When Cristiani joined ARENA in 1984, says Escobar Galindo, the more traditional sectors of the party thought that he would be a mere ornament. "But now they know that someone can come in and do very advanced things. For this reason, they are going to be more vigilant with Calderon Sol." If the more conservative line in ARENA prevails, Escobar Galindo believes, there is a risk that the new government will fail. Conditions in the country today, he believes, call for "a government which provides openings, reaches agreements, and establishes links with other forces."

Political analyst Hector Dada expects that Calderon Sol's government is going to have to provide certain kinds of social programs not generally associated with the Right. He gives two reasons: (1) stability needs to be preserved; and (2) international organizations will be watching. Many of the latter, he says, "are now discussing openly whether the continuation of very 'orthodox' adjustment programs may not be producing the next generation of Latin American revolutions."

A wide range of Salvadoran opposition leaders agree that their efforts must now focus on economic and social issues, and that they must pay particular attention to politics on the local level. "I honestly think the election showed us that the popular movement is quite small," says Zamora. "The challenge now is to rebuild it….Its leaders have to be generated from the grass roots." Zamora says the future of the Left in Salvadoran politics is uncertain: "I think we have to call into question whether the FMLN and the Democratic Convergence should continue to exist. If we decide they shouldn't, then we would have to propose the creation of new, different [political] instruments."

What is likely to happen next in El Salvador? Following its commanding electoral victory, some members of ARENA were talking dynasty: "We want to be like the PRI [in Mexico) and rule for many years." And lots of things are in their favor: ARENA controls both the legislative and the executive branches, and will have decisive influence in naming the new Supreme Court. It won almost 80 percent of the mayoralties, and thus will have an even greater day-to-day chance of winning favor with voters. Instead of the "dual hegemony" that existed in El Salvador during the civil war—when each side had enough power to keep the other from imposing its will—ARENA is now firmly in the driver's seat. Nonetheless, David Rodriguez, an FMLN leader who has been working with campesinos since the 1960s, believes that ARENA is not invincible. "As privatization and ARENA's neoliberal projects deepen," he says, "so will repercussions for the poorest people in the country....They'll begin to get frustrated, and if the Left gets better organized politically and electorally, it will be able to make Calderon Sol pay." The question now is how well, and how quickly, the Left can organize.  

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