Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Further election thoughts from a friend

I received these insightful comments on the elections from Dean Brackley, S.J., who has lived in El Salvador since 1990 :

"It is clear that the during the last couple of years the urban population experienced a political awakening ("conscientization"), largely thanks to dollarization and the health crisis. That is reflected clearly in last year's elections (although the rural protest vote went to PCN, not to the left) and subsequent polls which so alarmed former Ambassador Rose Likens and her friends at the State Dept.

From my experience in the Bronx, here, and elsewhere, I think such awakenings are durable. What I sensed in recent months is that in urban areas people were losing their fear of discussing the possibility of voting for the left and were communicating about politics. (That is what I found, for example, in a poor community I work in close to major military installations, where FMLN flags began to appear as never before.)

That erosion of fear and political awakening was reflected in last year's election results, in the post-election polls and in this year's 50% increase in the vote for the FMLN. So, I think this vote increase is fairly durable, whereas the enormous increase in votes for ARENA probably includes many people who would have abstained if they had not been scared by the campaign propaganda: there'll be disturbances, maybe even more war; El Salvador will become another Cuba; remesas will be cut off and Salvadorans deported from the U.S. (Many employers pressured, cajoled and even threatened employees to keep them from voting for the left.)

Fear-filled conversations about these dire possibilities also spread through poor and working communities in the last two months. That helped produce votes but not an awakening. To that extent, these votes do not reflect lasting gains for ARENA. Although I think the fears can be revived in a future presidential election, I don't think they work for local (municipal and assembly) elections.

So, I expect the left and center-left will continue to do well, and even advance, at those levels in the future, unless ARENA's policies change notably. I believe this in part because I believe many people who were dragged out to vote by fear will withdraw into abstencionismo in future local elections.

Since these fears can be revived and since politics now passes through the media, the FMLN will not be able to win a presidential election alone in the foreseeable future, certainly not with a candidate like Schafik. And, if they'd won this time, they would have been mercilessly blamed for a disastrous economic situation and have little possibility for passing any legislation."

Comments to dlholiday@yahoo.com

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