This week, El Salvador’s right-wing parties further defined candidates for 2014 Presidential elections, including the official confirmation of ex-president Antonio “Tony” Saca’s presidential bid. Saca announced that he will run with the right-wing UNIDAD (“Unity”) coalition against his former party – the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) – and their presidential hopeful, San Salvador Mayor Norman Quijano. Roberto Lorenzana, spokesperson for the leftist Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation party (FMLN), commented on the uncertain future for the right-wing in the country saying, “the only certainty brought by Antonio Saca’s candidacy is that the right is divided”.
Saca’s official candidacy means at least 3 presidential slates will be on the February 2014 ballot, including the FMLN Sánchez Cerén/Ortiz slate, announced last fall. The addition of the UNIDAD slate increases the likelihood for a second, run-off election between the top two winning presidential contenders in March 2014, given the difficulty for any slate to win the absolute majority of votes (50% + 1 vote) required to claim victory in the first round of elections.
Saca declared his formal intent to run on Monday, February 25, emerging at the head of the newly-formed UNIDAD coalition that includes his Grand National Alliance (GANA) party – formed by the dramatic exodus of 12 ARENA parliamentarians in 2009 – and two smaller right-wing parties: the Christian Democrat Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN).
As president of El Salvador from 2004-09, Saca presided over the implementation of the US-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), the installation of a US-funded police training academy for Latin American law enforcement in El Salvador, a draconian Anti-Terrorism law (modeled after the USA Patriot Act) used to imprison community organizers mobilizing against water privatization, and rampant government corruption. Nonetheless, Saca has pledged to create jobs, continue social programs implemented under Mauricio Funes, increase funds allocated to the National University of El Salvador and support sport programs so that El Salvador reaches the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
ARENA ended its own period of speculation following major internal restructuring and selected current president of the Technological University, Rene Portillo Cuadro, an academic and party outsider as Quijano’s Vice Presidential running mate. The move has been seen as an attempt by ARENA to reach out to non-party members for support and to make their slate more attractive to voters beyond the traditional ARENA party base. Given the popularity of ex-president Saca among the ARENA party base, it seems that the Unity coalition and ARENA are lining up for a fierce battle over the right-wing voter base.