FMLN reducing internal democracy

According to a report in La Prensa Grafica, the FMLN leadership plans to do away with internal elections or primaries to choose its candidates for the next round of elections in 2009. The paper reports that the party wants to make itself more ideologically pure and may set up a system of classification of party members depending on their degree of militancy and adherence to the ideals of the party. If the FMLN follows through on these plans and rejects democracy within the party and insists on a rigid hard line orthodoxy for its candidates, it is likely to further marginalize itself in the coming years.


Anonymous said…
I really disagree with characterizing this as a reduction in internal democracy. I think that's wrong and it's also totally out of context.

First, it's important to say that the FMLN was, as far as I know, the first major political party in Latin America to try choosing their candidates for office through direct primary elections of their party members. It's important to be clear on that -- the FMLN is on the leading edge of internal democracy among political parties in Latin America to begin with. And in the Salvadoran context, does ARENA pick their candidates through direct votes of their members in primaries? Um, no. Neither does the PCN, PDC, etc etc etc. Nobody else does it.

So first of all, from that angle, you'd have to completely take the FMLN out of their real-world context to characterize the FMLN's likely change in internal candidate selection process as move that calls into question their internal democracy. They are one of the parties with the most internal democracy in all of Latin America. That's the starting point for having a fair discussion about this.

Second, the FMLN is an party dedicated to bringing about socialism in El Salvador to empower the vast poor majority and remove ARENA and the ruling elites from power. They do not exist to try to perfect an abstract conception of the ideal democracy in their internal elections in the absence of having an effect on bringing about a more democratic state of affairs for the people of El Salvador, who have lived through 60 years of military dictatorship, over a decade of war, and now 14 years of neo-liberal misery. The goal is to bring about a change to that situation, not to have a political party that has perfectly democratic internal candidate selection processes but then remains politically divided and inefective.

In El Salvador, there are presidential elections every 5 years and assembly and mayors elections every three years. This means that there is a national election every two years or so (with occasional back-to-back elections like the 2005 prez election and 2006 assembly/mayor elections). So the FMLN is already mobilizing it's membership into huge electoral campaigns for the actual elections where they compete with ARENA every 2 years or so, and occasionally every year. Then they have their internal leadership elections too. Those also take much time and energy. So when you add on top of that a lengthy internal primary election process, you end up with a party that is basically in a continual election cycle. That might be fine for a party that is not dedicated to actively participating in the mass political and social movements in their country. But the FMLN is not an ordinary political party in that sense. They are committed to being involved in grassroots activism as a key part of their vision of how real change will happen. So from that angle, it is disadvantageous to be in a continual election cycle which means that their rank-and-file have little time to do grassroots political work.

It's also the case that having internal primary elections has led to some problems in distorting the FMLN membership rolls. The basic problem that has cropped up is in some instances a local figure will want to be the candidate for mayor, for example, so just before the primaries he signs up all kinds of people to be 'members' of the FMLN to come and vote for him in the primary. But those people are not in fact members of the FMLN that actually agree with the FMLN's politics and participate in it's deliberations. They were just signed up opportunistically to help their friend become a candidate. And there are instances as well where that has been abused further, where a sitting mayor, for example, will promise constituents more services if they register as members of the FMLN to vote for him in the primary. I'm not saying these things are widespread or that they are worse than in any other party. But in a party such as the FMLN, which is committed to a vision of a new, socialist society and wants to bring a coherent vision to the public and wants it's members to be actually involved in the party and in the grassroots struggles, this kind of behavior, even if occasional, is a serious problem.

And also in the context of El Salvador, where the media is overwhelmingly outright reactionary (except for Colatino and channel 12) and hostile to the FMLN and actively tries to foment divisions within the FMLN, it is even more important for the FMLN to be vigilant about who is a member of the party to make sure there is not corruption or opportunism going on.

So, all that said, I look forward to a new process in the FMLN for choosing candidates. I think the leaders of the FMLN have proven that they are committed to internal democracy -- far moreso than any other party in El Salvador. I think they are grappling with how to select candidates in a way that gives the members of the FMLN the most input, without opening up the party's internal life to hostile outside forces who repeatedly and cynically manipulate any disagreement that emerges within the FMLN to try to provoke splits in the party. That has to come to an end, and hopefully the new policies will allow the party to move forward with greater unity, and greater political clarity, than at any time since the end of the war.

That's my 2 cents worth on this...
Tim said…

Thanks for your two cents.

The problem I see with the FMLN is that it is controlled by an entrenched leadership wedded to a hard-line orthodoxy which is not resonating with the people of El Salvador. And I think Schafik Handal's defeat in 2004 and Violeta Menjivar's narrow victory in San Salvador this year illustrate that the party must open itself up to change. But I don't think that change can happen if the current leadership remains entrenched.

But you will respond that the party should not abandon its ideals and must remain committed to the struggle for a socialist state. I would say that the party will not accomplish anything if it does not make itself electable. The party will remain stuck at 35% of the votes, if it does not find a way to reform, but there current leadership does not see this.
Anonymous said…
IMO, Handal's loss and Menjivar's victory aren't exactly great milestones when trying to evaluate FMLN's popularity with the country... because this a foul-play ridden country. There has been accusations of rigged elections during Handal's cadidature and so there are today, and I believe them to be more than "rumors".
Anonymous said…
The FMLN has failed to move from a military organization to a political party. The struggle for a fair and just society in El Salvador continues. If the Frente wants the people of El Salvador to support it in the political proces, then it must become a political party.