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El Salvador - Government

El Salvador is a democratic republic governed by a president and an 84-member unicameral Legislative Assembly. The president is elected by universal suffrage by absolute majority vote and serves for a 5-year term. A second round runoff is required in the event that no candidate receives more than 50% of the first round vote. Members of the assembly are elected based on the number of votes that their parties obtain in each department (circumscriptive suffrage) and serve for 3-year terms. The country has an independent judiciary and Supreme Court.

The causes of the armed conflict in El Salvador were varied and not all authors coincide on the importance of each. However, practically all agree that the old Salvadoran state, which had taken shape since the beginning of the 20th century, eventually acquired very authoritarian and repressive features. Perhaps that facet of the old state that generated most inconformity was its lack of democracy, its limited respect towards basic individual rights both human and civic and its lagging behind the bigger social and political processes at a global scale.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that a good part of the efforts of the negotiators of the Peace Accord centered on the creation of new republican institutions in step with the times and with the aspirations of the Salvadoran people, as well as the reform of other institutions which already existed as part of any modern state but which required, nonetheless, a thorough renovation. The issues concerning state institutions, either new or renewed, also were the ones that provoked the most debate among the group of negotiators.

As set forth in Article 154 of the Constitution, Salvadoran presidential elections take place every five years. A president is limited to a single five-year term. Legislative and municipal elections occur every three years, as set by Articles 124 and 202 of the Constitution. As a result, the two sets of elections overlap every 15 years, and 2009 was one of the overlap years.

The Electoral Code provides the basis for election guidelines in El Salvador, establishing the numbers of seats, the breakdown of representation, and rules of oversight of the electoral process. The Electoral Code establishes that the Legislative Assembly is comprised of 84 deputies, divided proportionally amongst the 14 Departments based on population data from the 1992 census. Each Department has a minimum of three deputies. A census was completed in 2007, but in order to adjust the distribution of deputies, the Legislative Assembly must approve changes to the Electoral Code.

Voters do not vote for candidates in El Salvador; they vote for parties. The presidential and municipal elections are decided by simple majority votes. For each municipality, the winning party secures the position of mayor along with the entire municipal council. The all-or-nothing approach to municipalities is an issue of contention in El Salvador, as uncontested dominance by any single political entity can hinder governmental effectiveness. Each municipality has a mayor, a "sindico" (roughly the equivalent of a city attorney or legal advisor), and between two and ten council members, based on the population of the municipality.

The electoral process is governed by a hierarchical group of four governing bodies: The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Juntas Electorales Departamentales (JEDs), or Departmental Electoral Boards, Juntas Electorales Municipales (JEMs), or Municipal Electoral Boards, and Juntas Receptoras de Votos (JRVs), or polling station officials.

The TSE oversees all aspects of the electoral process. It develops the electoral calendar, maintains the voter registry, manages the logistics of the elections, and monitors for any violations of voters' rights. It is also responsible for distributing public campaign funding to the political parties. The TSE is comprised of five judges. The Legislative Assembly selects three judges from lists provided by the three parties that earned the most votes in the preceding presidential election. They elect the remaining two from the Supreme Court. The candidates need a 2/3 Legislative Assembly vote to win. There are also five alternate judges, selected in the same manner.

There are 14 Department Electoral Boards (one per Department), which are overseen by the TSE. These bodies report election results to the TSE, supervise and issue ballot boxes to the Municipal Electoral Boards, and report to the TSE any disturbances in the electoral process. Each board consists of five members, one from each major political party. There are 262 Municipal Electoral Boards (one per municipality), which supervise the polling stations within their municipalities. Their chief duties involve monitoring the actions of the polling station officials, ensuring that the electoral process functions unencumbered within the areas under their jurisdiction, and reporting any problems in the electoral process to the TSE and Department Electoral Boards.

The National Civilian Police (PNC), created to replace the discredited public security forces, deployed its first officers in March 1993 and was present throughout the country by the end of 1994. The PNC had over 21,000 officers by 2012. The United States, originally through the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) and subsequently through the Department of States Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, led international support for the PNC and the National Public Security Academy (ANSP), providing about $32 million in non-lethal equipment and training since 1992.

Following the 1992 peace accords, both the Truth Commission and the Joint Group identified weaknesses in the judiciary and recommended solutions, including the replacement of all the magistrates on the Supreme Court. This recommendation was fulfilled in 1994 when an entirely new court was elected, but weaknesses remain. The process of replacing judges in the lower courts, and of strengthening the attorney generals' and public defender's offices, has moved slowly. The government continues to work in all of these areas with the help of international donors, including the United States. Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code were passed in 2011 and went into force in May 2012.

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