Sunday's presidential election took place without the participation of the insurgent forces here. Rebel leaders contend that security could not have been guaranteed for their candidates, party workers, or potential party members.
The leftist opposition in El Salvador is composed of the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), a coalition of five armed guerrilla factions. The FMLN has a tenuous alliance with the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR). The FDR, which is composed primarily of dissident Christian Democrats, represents the guerrillas politically.
The divisions and antagonisms within various groups that form the rebel front are immense. These divisions have caused serious ruptures within the rebel forces in the past, and they have never permitted a clear political consensus from the left.
The FDR is widely considered to be social democratic in its political orientation, while the leaders of the FMLN hold to various interpretations of Marxism.
Ostensibly, the rebels have changed their political agenda markedly during the past 41/2 years of conflict - publicly abandoning their earlier calls for hard-line Marxist political and economic systems.
At present the left proposes a political solution whose principal elements, outlined in the ''government of broad participation'' plan of October 1982, include:
* A direct share in power by the FMLN-FDR in a transition government that would include other political parties and the representative political groups of the middle class and the private-enterprise sectors not tied to the oligarchy.
* The ''purification'' of the Army to include soldiers from the rebel army and some from the present Army who have not been implicated in killings outside of combat.
* A mixed economy with rigorous reforms in the agrarian sector, financed by foreign trade.
* A nonaligned foreign policy, including a relationship of mutual respect with the United States. The left's plan would also offer Washington as well as El Salvador's Central American neighbors a reciprocal security treaty.
* The right of El Salvador to choose its own political development free of foreign interference.
* Full rights of trade-union organization and assembly, a respect for human rights, and freedom of expression and movement.
The problem with the left in El Salvador is that despite the official claims of unity, no one group appears to represent it. The FDR, while publicly the most visible of the forces making up the left, does not command any military power and has often proved out of touch with the aspirations of the guerrilla leaders now directing some 10,000 troops against government forces.
The FDR announced in 1982 that the left would not disrupt the elections for delegates to the Constituent Assembly, yet some guerrilla factions harassed voters and in a few places attacked polling centers. The FDR again announced that the guerrillas would not interfere in the March 25 presidential election, yet civilians in guerrilla zones say insurgents collected their state identification cards before each of the two rounds of voting to prohibit them from casting ballots. There were again isolated cases of the guerrillas' sabotaging voting paraphernalia.
During a recent broadcast by Radio Venceremos, the clandestine rebel radio station, the military commander for the FMLN, Joaquin Villalobos, denounced the elections as an ''imperialist project designed to provide the pretext for intervention'' for the US.
''If the government and the imperialist power decide to hold the election in the midst of a war, that is their problem,'' Mr. Villalobos said. ''If the war interrupts or molests the election, we are not going to stop it to protect this imperialist project.''
The FDR is composed of political leaders such as Guillermo Ungo, Salvador Samayoa, Ruben Zamora, and Hector Dada, all of whom were high-ranking officials in the 1979 reformist junta. During its attempt to alleviate the oppression and economic disparity, the FMLN carried out terrorist attacks and organized strikes which weakened the fragile coalition government.
Some FMLN leaders now concede that their former opposition to the current FDR leadership, whom they once labeled as ''the enemy,'' was an error.
Some of those in the FDR or sympathetic to it echo the misgivings one can find within some segments of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) here. While PDC followers fear they will be unable to exert pressure on the military to relinquish its political control, some in the FDR likewise worry they will be forced out of the political process by the FMLN if rebel forces come into power.
''If the US does not negotiate with the FDR, as it appears now that it will not,'' said a high-ranking FDR official in an interview in Managua this fall, ''then that does not leave much of a political role for us. There is always the danger that the FMLN will decide they fought the war without us.''
The internal dynamics of the FMLN do not bode well for the emergence of political pluralism or even toleration of dissenting political viewpoints.
Guerrillas have conducted frequent political assassinations and continue to execute those they consider government spies in areas under their control. Most of those executed have gone before a kangaroo court where they were charged by guerrillas with ''crimes against the people.''
A few months ago in the department of Morazan, six youths who returned home from forced military service were shot by the guerrillas. The Roman Catholic priest who said a mass for them was reportedly threatened.
Guerrilla leaders are primarily drawn from the middle class and most are university educated. All were proponents of Marxist social models until the recent rhetorical conciliations. Many here speculate that the FMLN realized its radicalism was only alienating large sectors of possible foreign and domestic bases of support.
Rebel leaders are difficult to pin down ideologically. During the frequent political meetings they hold in guerrilla-occupied towns, they speak specifically about the evils of the current system of government but vaguely about the system they hope to create.