UN finds political polarization growing in El Salvador

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a report yesterday summarizing the progress, or lack of progress, which El Salvador and other Central American countries have made in building peaceful, democratic and equitable societies. The report is a very good summary of current situations in these countries, and in coming days I will highlight several sections of the report.

Two conclusions from the report -- polarization is increasing in El Salvador and further political reforms are needed:
During the reporting period, both El Salvador and Guatemala saw presidential elections in which former actors in the countries'’ civil wars played a principal role. The electorates expressed their will peacefully and in great numbers, an illustration of the high stakes involved in the elections. However, the political parties in both countries showed deficiencies that prevented them from being effective vehicles for citizen participation. And while the Supreme Electoral Tribunals in both countries were successful in guaranteeing a voting process that, overall, was free and fair, the institutions proved unable to halt alleged electoral-law violations during the campaign.

The campaign for El SalvadorÂ’s March 2004 presidential elections generated a wave of polarization that surpassed any seen since the signing of the Peace Agreement; it eclipsed the Agreement's twelfth anniversary in January 2004. The campaign pitted the ruling Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) against the Frente Farabundo Marti­ para la Liberacion Nacional (FMLN). To the disappointment of many, the other parties that participated were unable to pose a significant challenge. The elections --— which gave ARENA its fourth consecutive term in office --— have had significant repercussions on El SalvadorÂ’s political system, deepening its polarization....

The electorates of El Salvador and Guatemala can be congratulated for having expressed their will peacefully and in great numbers. Encouragingly, El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal has announced that it is implementing a pilot plan, in a
limited number of electoral districts, to bring the polls closer to the voters. But in both countries, the electoral system needs further improvement.