Public standoff between ARENA’s TSE magistrate and candidate highlights internal divisions

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Walter Araujo, the magistrate representing the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party on El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), has announced he will not support Norman Quijano, the ARENA candidate for the February 2014 presidential elections. Araujo, who has represented the beleaguered party in the national institution that regulates elections since 2004, has put the party’s internal turmoil on display by publicly lambasting its leadership and chosen candidate over the last several weeks.

His apparent defection from the party line and electoral strategy represents a major loss for ARENA in terms of influence over the State electoral authority, an institution that they largely controlled to their electoral benefit prior to 2009.

In mid-April, Araujo provoked a scandal on Twitter through a heated exchange with newly-named ARENA party president Jorge Velado. Criticizing the party’s management under Velado, the magistrate decried the “lack of internal democracy.” This past week, Araujo addressed Quijano in the national media, saying: “The vote is the best weapon. I will not give you my vote.” The TSE magistrate also criticized the recent selection of former ARENA president Francisco Flores to run Quijano’s campaign.

The ARENA candidate responded to Araujo’s public provocations, charging him with not fulfilling his duty to the party in the TSE: “I don’t think my party feels represented by that man.” Quijano accused Araujo of serving the interests of Tony Saca, the former ARENA president who was expelled from the party and is now the presidential candidate for the right-wing “Unity” coalition.

In the meantime, former ARENA leader Francisco Laínez, who deserted the party in March, announced on Wednesday, May 15th that he is joining the “Unity” coalition. Meanwhile, Araujo denies charges that he has allied himself with Saca and claims to maintain loyalty to the ARENA party. In fact, Araujo is now publicly positioning himself for a run for the position of Mayor of San Salvador in 2015, Norman Quijano’s current post, and says he hopes that ARENA, which lost another legislator just last week, will support his candidacy.

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