El Salvador Recent Elections in Historical Perspective
José Z. García
T his chapter explores the evolution and political significance of elections in El Salvador's mercurial political system from 1948 to 1988.1 The coup against General Romero in 1979 constitutes a major break point in the analysis because, as subsequent events have revealed, it ended a political regime created after 1948 and began the efforts by many centrist groups to create a new regime while fighting a civil war. The elections of 1982, 1984, 1985, and 1988, when viewed in historical context, should be seen as elements of a successful strategy against guerrilla insurgents devised by an alliance between the armed forces of El Salvador, the Christian Democrats, and the U.S. government.
This strategy consisted of efforts to employ military force against the guerrillas effectively enough to avoid defeat, to buy time to initiate policy reforms designed to co-opt sectors thought to be vulnerable to guerrilla appeals, and to create a more viable political system that could institutionalize democratic legitimacy through electoral and governmental reform. The strategy appears by and large to have succeeded. Elections should thus be seen as a necessary but not sufficient ingredient in preventing what one might call the "Sandinization" of Salvadoran politics, a minimum goal consciously shared by the three forces -- U.S. government, Christian Democratic party, Salvadoran armed forces -- that formed the alliance.
The first relatively free election in Salvadoran history occurred in 1930. Several candidates contested the presidential election, policy differences between candidates were clear, and the votes were counted honestly