In an important shift in allegiances, the Salvadorean Army came down on the side of President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's party in this country's post-election crisis. After the alliance of rightist parties said last Sunday's elections -- which it appeared to have lost -- were fraudulent, the Army backed the President's Christian Democratic Party. El Salvador's electoral council rejected the rightist parties' demand that the elections be annulled.
Latest reports indicate that the Christian Democrats now hold 33 seats in the 60-seat national assembly.
Salvadorean Defense Minister General Carlos Eugenio Vides Cassanova issued a statement in an unprecedented live telecast press conference. ``While the Army is sacrificing itself on the battlefield, while we've given 21/2 months of security for the elections, we can't permit the capriciousness of each party to cause the elections to be repeated,'' said General Vides Cassanova.
``The Army has a military mission to complete and can't be distracted for periods of 21/2 months at any time,'' he said. ``We should unite our forces, overcome our differences and join our wills to destroy the common enemy, which is the communist-terrorist subversion.''
Following General Vides Cassanova's press conference, executive committee members of the Party of National Conciliation broke ranks with their coalition partner, the ultra-right National Republican Alliance (ARENA) party. The committee claimed the party leader, Raul Molina Martinez, acted without its authority by joining ARENA in challenging the elections.
Suddenly the rightist coalition had fallen apart and the challenge to the elections was ended. Now ARENA, defeated in the elections and repudiated by the Army, appears to be isolated.
ARENA's principal error was to charge the armed forces with supporting the Christian Democrats and involvement in several cases of minor voting irregularities. This prompted the armed forces to defend their ``honor and integrity'' and pushed them to publicly back the elections -- and implicitly President Duarte as well.
Duarte and the Christian Democrats took advantage of this opportunity to drive a wedge between the armed forces and ARENA by defending the Army against the ``grave'' and ``insolent'' charges of the rightist parties. D'Aubuisson later denied that the rightist parties had made this accusation.
In a televised interview, Duarte said that the right was ``used to the armed forces being the instrument for all their dirty deeds but now. . . . [the armed forces are] upright and resolved.''
This incident has also isolated the ultra-rightists within the armed forces for the moment and has weakened d'Aubuisson, one of whose strengths was his claim to the military's support as a former a major himself.
But the Army is noticeably cool toward Duarte's dialogue with the Salvadorean rebels, who want to ``purify'' the armed forces of officers involved with death squads and implicated in wanton killing.
The Christian Democrats, euphoric about having a majority for the first time, say that even the guerrillas will recognize that things have changed and be more willing to negotiate. But many skeptical Salvadoreans still need to be persuaded with deeds and not just words.