What the 2012 Elections Mean for Mining in El Salvador
Changes to the political power dynamics of El Salvador, some surprising and some expected, after the March 12th elections for Representatives to the Legislative Assembly as well as for Mayors and Municipal Councils are going to have important effects on policy making for the next three years.
The FMLN lost three seats, after holding the most seats in the Legislative Assembly (but not enough for a simple majority), and will now have 31 representatives next term. ARENA gained seats and now has the largest number of representatives (34) in the Assembly. GANA, a right-wing party that split from ARENA in 2009, won 11 seats. This was the party’s first time participating in an election process. The CN (formerly PCN) won 6 seats, the PES (formerly PDC) 1, and the CD will have 1. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has posted the exact percentages and break-down on their website
Simply put, the struggle for anti-mining legislation continues. The FMLN is the only elected party that has publicly committed to approving an anti-mining ban, and now more than ever the decision whether or not to pass legislation to ban mining is falling on GANA’s shoulders. GANA now has the exact number of votes to pass bills for ARENA or for the FMLN (assuming the CD votes with the FMLN).
While this was more or less the same division as the past term, GANA was less stable and not very centrally organized. Traditionally in El Salvador, representatives always vote according to the orders given party leadership (unlike in the U.S. were Congresspeople can be persuaded to vote against their party). However, GANA has had a fairly decentralized leadership strategy, where some candidates claimed to have the freedom to decide how they wanted to vote. Now that GANA has consolidated their power in the Legislative Assembly, it remains to be seen how they control voting in the party. In the past, including during campaigning, individual GANA representatives have stated their support for a mining ban, and claimed they would vote in favor, even though GANA as a party had not given an official stance. It is doubtful that those candidates will now be able to make such claims.
In terms of mayors, Jose Bautista continues as Mayor San Isidro, and ARENA remains in power in Ilobasco, Victoria, Sensuntepeque and the PCN won Guacotecti, which means there will be no significant changes to mining policies in those areas. In Chalatenango, the FMLN maintained control of the majority of municipalities that would be affected by mining (Arctatao, Nueva Trinidad, San José Las Flores, and Nueva Concepción, although the latter was by less than 100 votes). In La Unión, Santa Rosa de Lima (where the Commerce Group mine is located) was a very close race that ended favoring ARENA over the FMLN. The rest of the results for the municipal elections are on the TSE website.
The National Roundtable against Mining (the Mesa in Spanish) has not had a chance to evaluate their campaign to pressure candidates yet. However, what is clear after looking at the results is la lucha continua.