What with the furor over Nicaragua, El Salvador has moved beyond the immediate focus of the part of the American political community interested in Central America. El Salvador, however, is still there, still important and still kicking. Its struggle for justice and peace necessarily remains a preoccupation of American policy.
The latest development lies in last Sunday's legislative and municipal elections. Their altogether admirable effect was to put into place, in a country wracked by war and economic ruin, the full forms of democracy. From these elections, two developments were worth hoping for. One was the strengthening of President Jose Napoleon Duarte's Christian Democrats. This happened. The party now clearly has its first legislative majority. The coalition led by Roberto D'Aubuisson, a man linked to unspeakable political atrocities, lost its former edge.
The second development worth hoping for was a result that gave the Salvadoran right enough reason to stay engaged in the political process but not so much as to let it keep frustrating President Duarte's major initiatives. Something like this may have happened. How Mr. Duarte plays his new hand will tell.
In El Salvador the way is never clear. But certainly President Duarte has a fresh opportunity to press the dialogue with the left, which has been frozen since last December. The recent success of day-long national truces called for child immunization campaigns of the Pan American Health Organization and UNICEF indicates the hunger for peace that is there.
President Duarte also is in a position to assert more authority over the armed forces in order to further diminish the activity of the death squads and to give himself more political latitude all around. Mr. Duarte is a familiar -- some would say worn -- figure. No one expects miracles from him. But he is a man of proven decency and courage. His frustrations in, for instance, redressing human rights violations and making reforms work do not come from want of trying.
His party apparently got none of the American help in the elections this year that was bestowed in the presidential elections last year. This produced suggestions in some quarters that the United States was cooling to him. It doesn't look that way to us. The help his party received last time tarnished him. He is much the stronger for winning on his own. Before, he was a good bet for the United States, and now he is a better bet.