As El Salvador gets a very early start on the 2009 elections, studies of the electorate in the country show that people lack much confidence in the national government and its insitutions:
The Latin American Public Opinion Project released a comparative study in San Salvador, titled La Cultura Política de la Democracia en El Salvador: 2006. Findings include strong citizen support of democratic governments: 87.6 percent prefer electoral democracy and 72.7 percent choose a democratic government over authoritarianism. Yet, compared to 2004, there was an increase in the number of people favoring authoritarian values and higher mistrust of public institutions.
In El Salvador, security levels are low, the study says: 47.1 percent of those surveyed feel unsafe or somewhat unsafe because of the prevalence of crime in the country. Even more disturbing is that 70 percent of crime victims still do not report criminal acts because of fear of or mistrust in government institutions. As a result, there is a vicious cycle of violence, lack of personal safety and mistrust in democratic institutions and in the legitimacy of the political system.
This trend also applies to how people in El Salvador perceive corruption: 43.1 percent consider corruption among government officials pervasive. Similarly, some sectors of the society show an important level of corruption tolerance. About 17 percent of victims of corruption condone acts of corruption. The data for 2006 shows, however, a slight decrease in corruption from 2004.
“Democracy faces many challenges in El Salvador, but when developing and implementing democratic governance programs, we cannot afford to lose citizen participation and trust in democratic institutions,” writes Ricardo Córdova Macías of the “Fundación Dr. Guillermo Manuel Ungo” (FUNDAUNGO) and José Miguel Cruz, director of the El Salvador-based Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública at the Universidad Centroamericana.
The poll was carried out in June and July 2006 among 1,729 Salvadorian adults. The study is part of a series of surveys by LAPOP’s AmericasBarometer, an effort to measure democratic values and behaviors in the Americas using national probability samples of voting-age adults. The surveys are made possible with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt University.
Low levels of support for political parties are evidence of citizen mistrust. Macías and Cruz found that 71.6 percent of the people surveyed think it is a good idea to pass a law that requires political parties to publicize public and private funding and the way the money is spent. Currently, there is no such law in El Salvador.
But Salvadorians in general have confidence in city governments. Although this trust has decreased since 2004, there is still fair level of citizen participation in local governments, especially when it comes to requesting assistance or help to solve local problems.
(See Vanderbilt press release, and the complete survey results).
An article discussing these survey results appeared recently on the IPS News Service:
The dissatisfaction with democracy, experts say, is because the system has not overcome economic and social polarization, corruption and insecurity.
The country has also gone backwards with respect to human rights and civil liberties, a trend illustrated by the 2006 anti-terrorism law, which according to critics criminalizes social protest.
The head of the non-governmental penal affairs section of the Study Foundation for the Application of the Law, Nelson Flores, told IPS that "El Salvador is a failed state in which authoritarianism predominates. Laws are being passed that instead of democratising the country, are causing greater repression and criminalising social protests."
Two weeks ago the governing right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and its ally in congress, the Party of National Conciliation, approved reforms to the criminal code which punish persons convicted of creating public disorder with up to 10 years in prison.
"This does not favour the consolidation of democracy," Flores said.(more)