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To Rebound After Defeat, El Salvador’s ARENA Must Move Beyond Fear

, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

El Salvador’s leftist FMLN won the country’s presidential election in March by a razor-thin margin, despite pre-election polls that indicated the party would score an easy victory over the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). After a “final scrutiny” of the second-round vote, the country’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) declared that the FMLN’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren had won a majority of the vote—50.11 percent to 49.89 percent for ARENA’s Norman Quijano. Two weeks later, both the TSE and the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber rejected petitions from ARENA alleging fraud and demanding a ballot-by-ballot recount.

Following ARENA’s relatively poor first-round performance, the party’s surge in the second round surprised many observers and analysts. Many had speculated that either the once-unstoppable party was on the verge of irrelevance, or its lackluster performance would lead to a serious internal re-evaluation of whether the party was actually interested in becoming a pro-democratic, pro-capitalist alternative. There were positive signs in February as Quijano softened his rhetoric and adopted a stance of supporting popular social programs. He also removed his campaign manager, former President Francisco Flores, who was under investigation for corruption. ...

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