The stakes grew higher today in El Salvador's constiutional battle of powers. The Constitutional Chamber of the country's Supreme Court ruled that the election of the new Attorney General by the National Assembly was unconstitutional. Like the Chamber's earlier ruling on Supreme Court magistrates elected in 2006 and 2012, this ruling declared that the National Assembly in power between 2009 and 2012 had violated the constitution by voting twice to elect an attorney general.
Once again, the Chamber has squarely challenged the power of the political parties. The election of an attorney general is typically the process of serious political dealmaking. By limiting when such deals can be made, the court is again putting constitutional constraints on how the parties can act.
There had been some hope last week that discussions could take place to resolve the constitutional crisis. The National Assembly met to discuss possible resolutions, and ideas were being floated such as a constitutional amendment to clarify when magistrates could be elected, and a vote by the National Assembly to re-elect the judges in compliance with the ruling of the Constitutional Chamber. Ultimately, however, no progress occurred and the discussions ended.
Two events face El Salvador in the coming week -- one certain and one possible. The certain event is that the term of Jose Belarmino Jaime as president of the Supreme Court ends on July 16. His successor Ovidio Bonilla was elected by the National Assembly. But Bonilla is one of those magistrates that Belarmino and the other members of the Constitutional Chamber ruled were elected improperly. He plans to take up the president's role nonetheless, but Belarmino has announced that he has designated a substitute magistrate to fill the president's role instead, until the National Assembly complies with the rulings of the Constitutional Chamber.
The possible event is a final ruling by the Central American Court of Justice on the appeal by the National Assembly from the rulings of the Constitutional Chamber. The prior ruling was only a temporary measure which suspended the effectiveness of the Constitutional Chamber rulings. The CACJ could issue a final decision which either ruled for the Constitutional Chamber, or it could make its preliminary order permanent. I would hope that the CACJ will side with the Constitutional Chamber which could cut short this crisis and be a vote for institutional conformity to the rules of the constitution. If the CACJ rules against the Constitutional Chamber, the Chamber will declare the ruling not binding on it, and the crisis will continue.