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El Salvador Table of Contents

El Salvador

The Document

The Constitution of 1983 is in many ways quite similar to the constitution of 1962, often incorporating verbatim passages from the earlier document. Some of the provisions shared by the two charters include the establishment of a five-year presidential term with no reelection, the right of the people to resort to "insurrection" to redress a transgression of the constitutional order, the affirmation (however neglected in practice) of the apolitical nature of the Salvadoran armed forces, the support of the state for the protection and promotion of private enterprise, the recognition of the right to private property, the right of laborers to a minimum wage and a six-day work week, the right of workers to strike and of owners to a lockout, and the traditional commitment to the reestablishment of the Republic of Central America (see El Salvador and the United Provinces of Central America , ch. 1).

The Constitution consists of 11 titles, subdivided into 274 articles. Title One enumerates the rights of the individual, among them the right to free expression that "does not subvert the public order," the right of free association and peaceful assembly for any legal purpose, the legal presumption of innocence, the legal inadmissibility of forced confession, and the right to the free exercise of religion--again, with the stipulation that such exercise remain within the bounds of "morality and public order."

Title One, however, also specifies the conditions under which constitutional guarantees may be suspended and the procedures for such suspension. The grounds for such action include war, invasion, rebellion, sedition, catastrophe (natural disasters), epidemic, or "grave disturbances of the public order." The declaration of the requisite circumstances may be issued by either the legislative or the executive branch of government. The suspension of constitutional guarantees lasts for a maximum of thirty days, at which point it may be extended for an additional thirty days by legislative decree. The declaration of suspension of guarantees grants jurisdiction over cases involving "crimes against the existence and organization of the state" to special military courts. The military courts that functioned from February 1984 until early 1987 under a suspension of guarantees (or state of siege) were commonly known as Decree 50 courts, after the legislative decree that established them.

According to the Constitution, all Salvadorans over eighteen years of age are considered citizens. As such, they have both political rights and political obligations. The rights of the citizen include the exercise of suffrage and the formation of political parties "in accordance with the law" or the right to join an existing party. The exercise of suffrage is listed as an obligation as well as a right, making voting mandatory. Failure to vote has technically been subject to a small fine, a penalty rarely invoked in practice.

Voters are required to have their names entered in the Electoral Register. Political campaigns are limited to four months preceding presidential balloting, two months before balloting for legislative representatives (deputies), and one month before municipal elections (see Political Dynamics , this ch.). Members of the clergy and active-duty military personnel are prohibited from membership in political parties and cannot run for public office. Moreover, the clergy and the military are enjoined from "carry[ing] out political propaganda in any form." Although military personnel are not denied suffrage by the Constitution, the armed forces' leadership routinely instructed its personnel to refrain from voting in order to concentrate on providing security for polling places.

Title Five defines the outlines of the country's "Economic Order." As noted, private enterprise and private property are guaranteed. The latter is recognized as a "social function," a phrase that may function as a loophole for the potential expropriation of unproductive land or other holdings. Individual landowners are limited to holdings of no more than 245 hectares but may dispose of their holdings as they see fit. The expropriation of land may be undertaken for the public benefit in the "social interest" through legal channels and with fair compensation.

Amendment of the Constitution is not a simple procedure. Initial approval of an amendment (or "reform") requires only a majority vote in the Legislative Assembly. Before the amendment can be incorporated, however, it must be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the next elected assembly. Since legislative deputies serve three-year terms, an amendment could take that long or longer to win passage into law.

Data as of November 1988

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El Salvador Table of Contents