Resignation of Salvadorean rightist comes as no surprise. D'Aubuisson's decline apparent since defeat in '84 elections

Maj. Roberto d'Aubuisson's resignation as leader of the ultra-right-wing National Republican Alliance party marks the end of an era in Salvadorean politics. His resignation at the party's autumn political convention on Sunday didn't come as a surprise here.

When the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) announced last month that d'Aubuisson would begin visiting the party's grass-roots supporters in the countryside, analysts considered it a clear sign of demotion.

``D'Aubuisson's resignation is a sign of the fragmentation of the Salvadorean right,'' says one academic political analyst.

``It shows that following its electoral defeats it has realized that the US political project is predominant. Getting rid of d'Aubuisson was the logical step.''

His decline has been apparent ever since El Salvador's 1984 presidential elections when d'Aubuisson was defeated by Jos'e Napol'eon Duarte.

At that time, party members realized the United States would never allow d'Aubuisson to come to power and considered him a political liability. The US had allegedly given President Duarte more than $1.5 million to aid his campaign.

After the 1984 defeat d'Aubuisson disappeared from sight. Rumors began to circulate that he would leave ARENA. But, he arrived at Sunday's convention as party head.

ARENA's second defeat, in last spring's assembly and municipal elections, further convinced party leaders that d'Aubuisson had become a liability.

The Salvadorean armed forces supported President Duarte's victory and dismissed the right's allegations of fraud. This was seen as a further erosion in ARENA's base of support.

A new rightist political party surfaced immediately after the elections. Led by d'Aubuisson's former vice-presidential running mate, Hugo Barrera, it carefully cultivated a moderate image.

ARENA's choice of a new party head shows that it has learned the lessons of power politics, analysts say.

Alfredo Cristiani was unanimously chosen as ARENA's new president for a two-year term. Mr. Cristiani is a relative newcomer to politics. He joined the ARENA executive committee a year ago during the post-presidential election party shakeup.

Cristiani helped produce much of ARENA's television publicity during last spring's assembly elections.

One political observer called him at the time, ``a hot, young quarch [oligarch].''

Educated in the US, Cristiani heads the powerful association of coffee and cotton growers in El Salvador.

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