El Salvador’s political background
El Salvador is located in the northern part of Central America, and is part of the so called Northern Triangle together with Honduras and Guatemala. The three countries face a lot of similar challenges especially in the area of security.
Although the economy has steadily increased over the last decade in El Salvador, a large proportion of the population continues to live in poverty and the level of unemployment remains high. Young people and women are even more vulnerable to the socio economic situation. Furthermore, the country experiences some of the highest crime levels of the world.
On top of that, climate change poses a serious challenge for El Salvador, because it is particularly vulnerable to extreme climatic events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. As a result, tensions around sufficient clean water supply have built up. The country is dependent on Guatemala and Honduras for its water supply.
Over the last decades, the democratic system of El Salvador has been dominated by two parties : the conservative right-wing party ‘Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA)’ and the ‘Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN)’, which transitioned from a guerrilla movement to a leftist political party. After an initial domination of the political landscape by the ARENA party from 1989 until 2009, in 2009 the FMLN managed to win the elections for the first time and subsequently installed the first left-wing government in El Salvador. In February 2014, the FMLN won the elections again with a very narrow margin.
In March 2015, elections took place for the Legislative Assembly, the Central American Parliament and the municipal governments. For the first time in history Salvadorans chose plural or multi-party municipal councils (before that the ‘winner takes all’ system was applied). These elections also had another new feature: for the first time a quota regulation of 30% for women was applied for the electoral lists.
Despite a high perception of corruption and friction between the judiciary on the one hand and the presidency and legislative assembly on the other, the democratic institutions are perceived to be functioning reasonably well.
The approach of NIMD in El Salvador
NIMD’s work in El Salvador started at the end of 2012. As a result, the programme was focused on preparing the political parties for the changes in the electoral system for the 2015 elections. In light of the changes in the electoral law for the municipal elections, NIMD developed a ‘train the trainers programme’ for all political parties on dialogue skills and consensus building: important skills to have to ensure governability at local level. NIMD did this in coordination with other organizations.
Inclusion of underrepresented groups
In its work, NIMD pays special attention to the inclusion of underrepresented groups in politics. The establishment of the quota regulations was an important step forward in Guatemala and resulted in over 30% of women elected in the Legislative Assembly.
NIMD supports capacity building of women politicians through an intensive training course for women politicians from all political parties and from national and local level. Furthermore, NIMD seeks to contribute to a democratic culture where the rights of women and men are respected. We do this by investigating the barriers that hamper political participation of women and by exchanging best practices on gender sensitive policy and legislation.
Capacity building of youth
Young people tend to shy away from a career in politics, not seeing the possibilities that the political arena offers to positively influence important decisions about the future of the country. NIMD is in the process of establishing a Democracy School for young people from political and civil society to prepare them for their careers. At this school they will be able to practice democratic skills and behaviours and learn how to speak, listen and debate with mutual respect and focus on programmatic content.
NIMD also facilitates dialogue between civil society and political actors on issues related to environmental governance and security, such as water management. This approach is part of our Democratic Dialogue for Environmental Security programme. The programme is implemented together with Cordaid and is being carried out in El Salvador, Colombia, and Guatemala.