What do Tight Presidential Elections Mean for Security in El Salvador?

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Tensions are mounting in El Salvador with the results of presidential elections still too close to call — a situation that does not bode well for the country’s dire security situation.

Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren appeared, as of March 11, to have won the election by a razor-thin margin of 6,584 votes over his conservative rival, Norman Quijano. However, El Salvador’s election authority (TSE) has said it will not proclaim a winner until the end of the week, reported La Prensa Grafica.

Quijano and his Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party are disputing the results, calling the elections process fraudulent, protesting outside the TSE headquarters, and even threatening to involve the army.

The tensions add the specter of political unrest to a chaotic security situation that has seen the country’s once lauded truce between street gangs declared nonexistent by police officials, and murders increase from about five per day following the implementation of the truce in 2012 to nearly nine per day in recent months, reported El Mundo.

InSight Crime Analysis

All signs point to the FMLN candidate maintaining his lead in the vote count. However, with such a small margin of victory, whoever wins will lack the mandate to take strong action to address the country’s security crisis.

If Sanchez Ceren does win, he will inherit a security mess made, in part, by the inconsistent policies of his own party. The outgoing Mauricio Funes administration will be best remembered for the gang truce, yet has never publically thrown its full support behind the pact.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Salvador Gang Truce

During his campaign, Sanchez Ceren never made any official statements on the truce, other than to say that the FMLN under Funes never supported it — a claim that seems increasingly disingenuous as evidence mounts that government officials not only tacitly supported the truce but also may have paid jailed gang leaders to respect it. The FMLN candidate also never outlined his security strategy, other than to say he would create a national network of police.

While the future of the gang truce and El Salvador security policies under a Sanchez Ceren government remain unclear, if his rival were to win, then it would likely spell the end of the truce and a return to hardline security policies — including the militarization of security to combat crime.

Possibly the most damaging outcome for El Salvador though, would be a protracted dispute over the election results, especially if it leads to violent confrontation. As Honduras has found out since its 2009 coup, political upheaval and instability can act as an open invitation for organized crime to capitalize on the chaos. 

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