FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in El Salvador Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

El Salvador’s former major rebel organization, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), won the majority of the seats in El Salvador’s national assembly. In 1992, the FMLN signed an agreement with the Salvadoran government to give up its attempts to overthrow the government by force and to seek a voice in politics through the democratic electoral process.

Summary of Event

On March 12, 2000, a legislative election was held in El Salvador to choose eighty-four deputies for a three-year term. The FMLN won the most seats, thirty-one, and amassed a popular vote of 426,289, 35.22 percent of the total. Its major opponent, the Nationalist Republican Alliance Nationalist Republican Alliance (El Salvador) (ARENA), garnered twenty-nine seats with 436,139 popular votes, or 36.04 percent of the total. Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front El Salvador, government [kw]FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in El Salvador (Mar. 12, 2000) [kw]Legislative Elections in El Salvador, FMLN Wins (Mar. 12, 2000) [kw]Elections in El Salvador, FMLN Wins Legislative (Mar. 12, 2000) [kw]El Salvador, FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in (Mar. 12, 2000) Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front El Salvador, government [g]Central America;Mar. 12, 2000: FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in El Salvador[10630] [g]El Salvador;Mar. 12, 2000: FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in El Salvador[10630] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 12, 2000: FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in El Salvador[10630] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Mar. 12, 2000: FMLN Wins Legislative Elections in El Salvador[10630] Cristiani, Alfredo Carpio, Cayetano Villalobos, Joaquín Dalton, Roque Handal, Schafik D’Aubuisson, Roberto

Four other parties also ran, but won only twenty-four seats among them. ARENA managed to secure support from some of these parties in order to maintain control of the central government.

The FMLN’s rise to political prominence began some thirty years earlier. El Salvador experienced a great deal of unrest in the 1970’s. The majority of its people lacked economic opportunity, a chance for education, and proper health care.

Several groups sought to force the Salvadoran government to make changes and furnish better living standards for the nation’s citizens. A progressive wing of the Catholic Church, including so-called liberation theologians, began training a number of adherents to work for the improvement of living conditions for the country’s poor. The Communist Party of El Salvador began to sign up members to press for the same goals, and the country’s university students began forming revolutionary groups with a similar intent.

The government, in control of the country’s armed forces, began a deliberate campaign of terror in response to these popular movements, killing or driving out the inhabitants of whole villages suspected of harboring rebels. Those who survived either went into exile in the cities, left the country, or joined forces with the incipient guerrilla organizations.

In 1980, five of these groups joined together to form the FMLN. They were the Salvadoran Communist Party, the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), the Popular Liberation Front (FPL), the National Resistance (RN), and the Revolutionary Party of Central American Workers (PRTC). Throughout the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, the FMLN fought the Salvadoran army for control of the country. The army received equipment, supplies, and training from the U.S. government. The U.S. Army assigned some fifty-one trainees to full-time duty with the Salvadoran armed forces. The FMLN received the same type of assistance from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Russia.

During that period, some seventy thousand citizens lost their lives, and thousands more went into exile abroad. The FMLN managed to retain control of large areas in the remote Morazán and Chalatenango departments, and in 1989, it launched full-scale attacks against San Salvador, the country’s capital.

In a move sponsored by the United Nations, the FMLN rebels and El Salvador’s president, ARENA party member Alfredo Cristiani, signed the Chapultepec Peace Accords on January 16, 1992. The U.S. government, the Soviet Union, and, it was said by some, Cuba urged their respective clients to agree to the end of the fighting.

Under the terms of the agreement, the FMLN assumed the role of a political party and began its participation in the country’s peaceful democratic process. Since 1992, both the FMLN and ARENA have competed for the right to lead El Salvador. At times, the FMLN has had the greatest number of delegates in the legislative assembly, and its party members have held the office of mayor in many of the country’s major cities.


ARENA retained control of El Salvador’s central government despite the FMLN’s political strength. In the presidential election of 2004, Elías Antonio Saca González, the ARENA party nominee, defeated Schafik Handal, a member of the FMLN and a former Communist Party official.

El Salvador’s political picture in the early twenty-first century was clouded by the Salvadoran government’s commitment to the armed conflict in Iraq that began in 2003. Saca stated that the assignment of Salvadoran troops to aid the U.S.-led coalition in the Iraqi conflict was repayment for U.S. assistance to El Salvador during its civil war. The president dispatched the Cuscatlan Battalion—some 380 soldiers—to Iraq in 2003, and numerous rotations within the Salvadoran contingent followed. Saca managed to maintain his commitment to the United States even while ARENA was not enjoying a majority in the legislative assembly. He accomplished this by making deals with two of the assembly’s minor parties.

One factor in Handal’s defeat was his commitment to withdrawing the Salvadoran army from Iraq had he won the presidency. Many voters feared that such a move might compromise the continued two billion dollars in annual aid to the country from Salvadorans living in the United States. Although the majority of Salvadorans agreed with the position of the FMLN on troop withdrawal from Iraq, the remittances of expatriate Salvadorans to their home country play a major role in its economy. It has been estimated that some 33 percent of El Salvador’s 6.8 million natives now live outside the country (most of them in the United States) and that more than 22 percent of the families living in El Salvador receive aid from Salvadorans abroad.

Crime and unemployment have posed two major problems in El Salvador. Powerful gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, have made life hazardous for the average citizen, with robberies, kidnappings, and car thefts becoming common occurrences in everyday life. Too few job opportunities exist for those seeking work. El Salvador can no longer rely on coffee, cotton crops, and shrimp fishing to bridge this gap in employment opportunities. If the central government under ARENA’s rule fails to reduce El Salvador’s crime and joblessness, the FMLN may develop enough support through popular elections to win power. Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front El Salvador, government

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benitez, Sandra. Bitter Grounds. New York: Picador USA, 1997. An account of a family caught up in the class conflict that led to El Salvador’s brutal civil war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grenier, Yvon. The Emergence of Insurgency in El Salvador: Ideology and Political Will. New York: Macmillan, 1999. Describes the role that ideology played in the actions of the revolutionary parties, the Catholic Church, and university students during the Salvadoran civil war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Juhn, Tricia. Negotiating Peace in El Salvador: Civil-Military Relations and the Conspiracy to End the War. New York: Macmillan, 1998. An analysis of the final thirty months of the civil war in El Salvador and the events that led to the signing of the Chapultepec Peace Accords.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lauria-Santiago, Aldo, and Leigh Binford, eds. Landscapes of Struggle: Politics, Society, and Community in El Salvador. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. A series of essays analyzing El Salvador’s political, economic, and social institutions before, during, and after the civil war.

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Categories: History