Saturday, August 14, 2010

A challenge to political parties

In January 2009, I wrote a post titled "The Primacy of the Party" where I described the Salvadoran system for electing deputies to the National Assembly. The voters do not vote for individual deputies; they vote only for the political party. The ballot for deputies to the National Assembly is simply a series of party logos, and the voter marks the logo of the party for whom he wishes to elect deputies to the National Assembly. The parties develop their slate of deputies for each department, and rank those deputies from 1 to the total number elected in the department.

The Supreme Court in El Salvador has now ruled that this closed system violates El Salvador's constitution. The Voices from El Salvador blog has its usual excellent analysis:

On July 29, the Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court began openly debating election reforms. The Supreme Court issued a ruling that struck down clauses of the Election Code that required candidates to be members of a political party in order to run for office in the Legislative Assembly. In the same ruling, the Court also said that the closed lists that political parties currently use on election ballots are unconstitutional. Instead, the Court said, voters must be able to vote for individual candidates from each party.

The Court stated that sections of the Electoral Code were unconstitutional because they diminish voter autonomy and effectively eliminate direct elections, which is a right protected by Article 78 of the Salvadoran Constitution. Warned in advance of the Court’s impending decision, the Legislative Assembly passed several constitutional reforms, one of which completely banned independent candidates from participating in municipal and Legislative. The last minute reforms, some of which were passed at 1 am the night before the Court published its decision, were clearly intended to create conflict with the Supreme Court. (more)

The court's decision has prompted Salvadoran politicians and commentators to debate the relationship among the branches of government and the nature of the country's democracy. President Funes has expressed his disagreement with the Court's decision. The Supreme Court's decision brings a direct challenge to the entrenched officials in each political party who control the slates of delegates. How the issue is resolved will reveal much about the maturity of the post-civil war Salvadoran democratic institutions.

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