Path: Table of Countries -->El Salvador
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 626-627
EL SALVADOR: The Party System in 1950-1955 and 1956-1960
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The smallest mainland country in Latin America, El Salvador achieved its independence from Spain in 1821. Throughout the nineteenth century, El Salvador displayed the familiar pattern of conflict between "Liberal" and "Conservative" parties identified with factions of the ruling oligarchy--consisting of a few wealthy families and the military. Following the relatively open elections of 1931, General Maximiliano Hernández Martinez seized power and governed until 1944. He was followed by General Salvador Castañeda Castro until 1948, when a younger group of army officers overthrew him and introduced a program of reforms. To help implement this policy, they created the Partido Revolucionario de Unificación Democrática (PRUD) and formulated a new constitution, which was adopted in 1950.

The PRUD's candidate for the 1950 election for president was Lt. Col. Oscar Osorio. He was opposed by Colonel José Asencio Menéndez, representing the Party of Renovating Action (PAR). Osorio won by a respectable margin of 57 percent of the vote while his PRUD candidates captured all the legislative seats. PRUD continued its domination of the legislature throughout our time period, as PAR did not contest congressional elections of 1952 and 1954, claiming that they were rigged.

Prohibited by the constitution from succeeding himself in office, Osorio backed Colonel José María Lemus as the PRUD candidate for the 1956 election for president. Several new parties were formed for these elections, but some were disqualified shortly before the election. Lt. Col. Rafael Carranza Amaya of the Authentic Constitutional Party (PAC) and Menendez of PAR were the only qualified candidates to oppose Lemus. PAR then banded behind Carranza, but both candidates withdrew before the election, although their names remained on the ballot. Together, they polled 6 percent of the vote; the remainder went to Lemus. PRUD continued its domination of the legislature, winning all the seats in 1956, 1958, and 1960--as opposition candidates withdrew from the elections. Lemus's repressive policies, especially against leftist organizations, led to a bloodless coup in October 1960. A second coup in January 1961 developed in opposition to perceived leftist favoritism of the new regime.

Continuity and Change since 1960

The graph of party representation in El Salvador's Legislative Assembly portrays another instance of severe discontinuity in a party system. Neither of the two original parties in our study lasted to 1978, and three new ones qualified for study

Original Parties, Terminated

 431 Revolutionary Party of Democratic Reunification. PRUD ended in 1960 with the overthrow of Colonel José María Lemus.

432 Renovating Action Party. PAR was the traditional opposition to PRUD during its rule until 1960. But PAR did poorly in the 1964 elections against the new government party, and it was taken over by radical elements. PAR was outlawed and terminated around 1968.

New Parties, Continuing

433 National Conciliation Party. PCN was formed in 1961 by former PRUD leaders to support the government following the overthrow of Lemus. While it was similar in outlook to PRUD, the judgment is that the PCN was not just an extension of PRUD under another name (Area Handbook for El Salvador 1971, p. 103). The PCN has governed continuously since 1962 under a series of military figures.

434 Christian Democratic Party. The PDC appeared in 1960 and established itself by winning nearly 30 percent of the seats in the 1964 election. The PDC provided the major legislative opposition to the PCN, but it boycotted the 1976 and 1978 elections.

435 Salvadorean Popular Party. The PPS was formed in 1961 by dissident PCN leaders and former PAR leaders who protested its new left orientation. It usually was third in seats behind the Christian Democrats, but in 1978 it was the only opposition party that contested the election.


After a period of party competition in the mid?1960s and early 1970s, the military government began to press the PCN's dominant position in elections, and opposition parties at first protested elections and then boycotted them in 1976 and 1978. Stability in El Salvador's political parties results from the PCN's hegemony rather than from the equilibrium of opposing parties.

[For party politics in El Salvador since 1960, see the essay by Chad Bell]

1. Our study of party politics in El Salvador is based on a file of 288 pages from 35 documents, 7 of which are in Spanish, the rest in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by John C. Thomas. Donald Sylvan used the file to code the Salvadorean parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Ronald H. McDonald was our consultant.