Monday, May 17, 2004

The FMLN's future: it's easy to read the writing on the walls

I've been skeptical all along whether Ortiz and the other "reformistas" of the FMLN would be able to make much headway between now and November, when there are elections for the new leadership of the FMLN. Now, with the results of yesterday's national convention, it seems like the die has been tossed. The "ortodoxos" will maintain control of the party apparatus, and normal channels of internal democratic dissent will not be tolerated.

The convention was held principally to elect a terna of three candidates to be sent to the Legislative Assembly, which will then choose the FMLN representative to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (note: the top three parties in the presidential election get to choose a magistrate, and the Supreme Court designates the other two.) Most prominently, Julio Hernandez, a TSE magistrate for the past five years, and one of the most outspoken critics of the TSE itself during that period, was up for re-election. But also running was Eugenio Chicas, who managed the presidential campaign of Schafik Handal.

Remember that Hernandez had walked out of the meeting of the Political Council just one day after the FMLN's defeat, quite upset apparently that the FMLN was not going to be self-critical at all about the original sin of having put up Schafik Handal as its candidate. Well, as it turns out, instructions were given to delegates to vote for everyone but Hernandez, and he got the lowest vote of four candidates (143 out of 388 who attended), and Chicas came out on top with 245 votes.

480 delegates were able to attend the convention, but in days prior, some 187 delegates had been purged from the roster, a move which Hernández himself had protested before the Ethics Tribunal of the FMLN last Friday, saying that it had been illegal. If you do the math, less than 60% of the roster of members who had--up until a few days ago--been eligible to participate, actually ended up voting on Sunday. René Canjura, the FMLN mayor of Nejapa, among others, also protested the earlier purge.

Even more revealing, however, was the "unanimous" approval by the party faithful of an FMLN document that explained away the presidential loss, blaming a poor communication strategy as the principal internal factor, and the intervention of the U.S. as the prime external factor. I'm sure this latter move is popular with the orthodox base, but it's quite far-fetched. It was ARENA's overwhelming economic resources and nasty tactics that contributed far more to the FMLN's defeat--the U.S. played into that, but it's a stretch to say they were the principal cause.

Schafik also entered a motion to prohibit all FMLN officials from attending the swearing in ceremony of Tony Saca as president on June 1, calling his presidency "illegal" and "illegitimate". When Hernández and Oscar Ortiz tried to criticize this effort as an "error" and "inopportune", they were roundly booed by sizeable portions of the audience. Leonel Gonzalez, the FMLN coordinator who was running the event, did nothing to intervene, and in fact told the audience after Ortiz's intervention not be tempted by such "provocations." Even Nidia Diaz called for some reflection on this point--since deputies are invited not as members of their respective parties, but as deputies elected to serve the entire population--but such words of caution were for naught. The motion was approved, setting the tone for the kind of posturing we can expect from the FMLN for years to come.

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