Before the Spanish arrived on the scene, the area now known as El Salvador consisted of three states in relative peace with each other.
The Spanish arrived in the early 1500s and slowly took over control of the region. By 1786 the Bourbon Reforms had turned El Salvador into an intendancy (in effect a governorate).
The first uprisings against the Spanish crown took place in 1811. Briefly part of the First Mexican Empire the Salvadorians became part of the United Provinces of Central America in 1823. That lasted until 1838 when the federation was dissolved and an independent republic declared.
The country had long since been run by a number of wealthy families and this continued on well into the 20th Century, albeit behind the scenes. By 1931 discontent was building once more and a military coup removed the recently elected President Arturo Aranjo. He was replaced by General Maximiliano Hernández Martinez. The country was to be ruled by military rulers for the next fifty years.
In 1944, following more unrest and an attempted coup, Martinez resigned in the May. He was replaced by General Osmin Aguirre y Salinas who lasted until the October. The next few years were typified by a series of military presidents, coups, failed coups, death squads and the so called 1969 Football War with Honduras which was to last several weeks.
From 1972 left wing revolutionaries started to gather strength and interrupt normal life in the country.
Up to this point, two parties had dominated the political scene. The Revolutionary Party of Democratic Unification ruled for most of the time from 1931 to 1960 and the Party of National Conciliation (PCN) from 1962 to 1979
In 1979 a coup d’état placed a Revolutionary Military Junta in control until 1980. By that time the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front or FLMN had escalated a civil war.
Despite the first democratically elected president, Álvaro Magaña coming in to office in 1982, the war dragged on until 1992 when it was ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accord.
In the 1994 elections Armando Calderón Sol of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) was elected on the second ballot with 68.3% of the vote. ARENA went on to form the government and was in power for much of the next two decades.
In 1999 Francisco Flores of ARENA won the presidential election with 51.96% in the first round, as did his successor from ARENA, Antonio Saca with 57.71% in 2004.
Since 1997 the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FLMN) had been gathering strength. In 2009 they finally made the breakthrough when they took 35 of the 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly and their presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes won with 51.32% of the vote. One of the president’s first acts was to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba which had been severed in the early 1960s.
In 2012 ARENA became the largest party once more winning 33 seats in the general elections to FLMN’s 31 seats. However, President Mauricio Funes was able to count on the support of a new party in the Legislative Assembly, the Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), which was formed by a breakaway group from ARENA.
Vice-President Salvador Sánchez Cerén went on to represent the FMLN in the 2014 Presidential election which he won with 50.11% of the vote, an incredibly narrow victory. In 2015 the FLMN went on to hold its 31 seats and ARENA dropped back to 32 seats with GANA taking 11 seats.
The president is elected for a single five year term.
The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly is a unicameral body, made up of 84 deputies. Of these, 64 are elected in 14 multi-seat constituencies, corresponding to the country’s 14 departments, which return between 3 and 16 deputies each. The remaining 20 deputies are selected on the basis of a single national constituency.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places El Salvador at joint 95th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 36 (where 100 is least corrupt).