Elections Watch

ELECTIONS WATCH: MARCH 2009

Positive Reactions from US Government Regarding Salvadoran Election

The US position towards the outcome of the Salvadoran presidential elections has been clear, strong and positive, despite asseverations from the ARENA campaign -backed by Republican US Congresspeople- that a victory of the FMLN would damage El Salvador-US relations.

blau-funes1Robert Blau, Charge d’Affaires of the US embassy to El Salvador, congratulated Mauricio Funes personally on the evening of Election Day after preliminary results showed that Funes was the new President-elect. “Mauricio Funes has won in a fair and free election. We have said many times that our intention is to continue with the good relations with El Salvador from government to government, and from people to people”, Mr. Blau said, according to an Embassy news article.

Below is a recollection of statements from US government officials regarding the outcome of the Salvadoran election:

President Back Obama Calls Mauricio Funes

obama_funes1Last Wednesday March 18, three days after the presidential elections, US President Barack Obama called President-elect Mauricio Funes to congratulate him for winning the election. According to an Associated Press article, President Obama discussed with Funes his desire to work together on the global economic crisis, energy cooperation and security.

Tom Shannon: US Reaffirms Positive Relations with El Salvador

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon, visited El Salvador on Wednesday, March 15. Mr. Shannon held meetings with current President Antonio Saca, President-elect Mauricio Funes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marisol Argueta de Barillas, and ARENA’s former presidential candidate Rodrigo Ávila.

According to a US Embassy’ news article, Mr. Shannon said that “the most important thing is to highlight our countries’ common interests and to guarantee good relations between people who are willing to cooperate and get good results. We want to be partners with El Salvador, we consider there is good faith and we are willing to work together.” During the meeting with Funes, Shannon reiterated his desire to “further strengthen the solid relationship between the two countries.”

State Department Congratulates the People of El Salvador

In a daily press briefing, Robert Wood, acting State Department spokesman, congratulated the people of El Salvador for “a very free, fair, and democratic election.” Mr. Wood also congratulated Mauricio Funes and Rodrigo Ávila for “participating in the election and for respecting the election results.” According to Mr. Wood, the State Department looks forward to working with the new government of El Salvador. To see the excerpt from the daily press briefing, please click here.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) Issues Press Release Regarding the Salvadoran Elections:

mcgovernOn March 16, Congressman Jim McGovern released the following statement: “Sixteen years after the historic signing of the Peace Accords, we have witnessed the full transformation of the FMLN into a leading political actor with the election of Mauricio Funes as the next president of El Salvador. I commend the people of El Salvador for their massive participation in this vote, which according to media reports occurred calmly and professionally throughout the country. I have been deeply engaged on Salvadoran issues for over 25 years. I know full well how closely our two nations are linked. I look forward to working with President-elect Funes and continuing the strong, respectful and mutually beneficial relationship between our two countries.”

Other Resources:

Read the LA Times‘ article “El Salvador Elects First Leftist President” for comprehensive coverage on the Salvadoran elections.

Read the article “El Salvador’s Left Wins Historic Election” by the Co-Director of The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

Read SHARE Foundation’s preliminary election delegation report.

Read NLG’s preliminary election observation report.

THANK YOU for your advocacy efforts which helped to convince the US government to take a stand in favor of free and fair elections!

– Claudia Rodriguez Alas, SHARE DC Policy Office Director

ELECTIONS WATCH: FEBRUARY 2009

ARENA and FMLN Will Go Head to Head in the Presidential Election

For the first time, the National Republic Alliance (ARENA) and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) will compete head to head in the Salvadoran presidential election since the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN) withdrew from the presidential elections in early February. In one of the most contested and polarized elections in the country’s recent history, Rodrigo Ávila (ARENA) and Mauricio Funes (FMLN) will only need half of the valid votes plus one in order to win. In the January legislative and municipal elections, the FMLN obtained 42.60% of the valid votes while ARENA obtained 38.55%.

On February 2nd, the PDC announced its decision to withdraw from the presidential elections. According to the declarations given by party members to La Prensa Gráfica, among the reasons that influenced this decision are economic factors, the possibility of suffering an “electoral catastrophe,” and the “flirting” that the two largest political parties were doing with the PDC leaders. According to the same source, Rivas Zamora and Merlin Peña, the PDC presidential and vice-presidential candidates, withdrew from the race after current President Antonio Saca called to create a “Democratic Alliance” for the presidential elections. Rodolfo Parker, the PDC General Secretary denied that their decision was due to negotiations with ARENA.

Later, on February 6th the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) confirmed that the PCN also pulled out of the presidential race. Contrary to the PDC, where its leaders withdrew voluntarily, the PCN withdrawal took place in the midst of a controversy between the PCN candidates and the party leaders. On February 4th the PCN leadership had announced its decision to withdraw arguing that their lack of resources prevented them from participating in the race. However, in a press conference, the PCN presidential candidate Tomás Chévez, without the party’s authorization, refused to withdraw saying that he was going to raise the money needed to stay in the race. After this press conference, the PCN expelled Chévez from the party. Party leaders said that they had lost trust in Chévez because he had threatened party unity when he met with the grassroots group “Friends of Mauricio” (Funes) without the approval of the party.

The PCN decision to expel Chévez generated a backlash in the party’s base. Chévez, an economist and pastor of the “Elim” Evangelical Church, had won the support of his church followers. In a press release published in the CoLatino, a group of Elim pastors expressed their disappointment with the PCN’s actions against Chévez. The press release also expressed that the PCN and ARENA leadership had betrayed the good will of Tomás Chévez, because these two parties needed to get him out of their way in order to make a nefarious alliance. The pastors called on their base to carefully reflect on who they would be voting for in the next elections. However, Mario Vega, the maximum leader of the Elim Church in El Salvador, distanced the church from the press release.

“Horse Trading” for Support

According to some political analysts, the decision by PDC and PCN to withdraw their candidates from the election is a result of negotiations between the two parties and ARENA. The PCN obtained 8.79% of the valid votes in the January elections, and the PDC obtained 6.94%. With this small support neither of the two parties had a viable chance at winning the presidential election. Therefore, instead of competing with ARENA in the major race, the two conservative parties would be much better of offering their support to the ARENA ruling party in exchange for favors such as appointments to ministries and other key public institutions. In the Legislative Assembly, both parties have a long history of negotiating their votes in exchange for favors. The governing party has needed these swing votes in order to achieve a majority in the Legislature.

While ARENA is negotiating with the leadship of the PDC and PCN, Mauricio Funes has opted to negotiate with their bases and local leaders. On February 4th, the mayor of Lolotique in western El Salvador announced his support for Mauricio Funes, offering 5,000 votes from their PDC base. Alliances between the FMLN and local PDC leaders are not uncommon. In the January elections, the FMLN was able to win three municipalities in coalition with the PDC. On February 8th, the elected mayor of Intipucá for the PCN, Hugo Salinas, also announced his endorsement of Mauricio Funes. The movement “Everybody with Mauricio Funes,” a group formed by the leaders of the FMLN, PDC, PCN, and CD from La Libertad department publicly committed to creating alliances with municipalities in the region in order to obtain 160,000 votes in support of the FMLN candidate.

In an election where the competition is so fierce, the PDC and PCN politicians are aware of the power they have through endorsing a candidate. Will Salgado, the renowned mayor of San Miguel, has met with both Rodrigo Ávila and Mauricio Funes. Salgado has said he will decide whom to endorse after listening to both candidates’ proposals regarding infrastructure and development projects for San Miguel. The San Miguel mayor is offering 100,000 votes to the candidate who makes the best offers for his city. However, analysts are saying that party leaders cannot assume their base will necessarily vote for the candidate that their party endorses.

Latest News

Salvadorans living overseas could participate in the Salvadoran elections if in the country

On February 11th, the Legislative Assembly, with votes from ARENA, PCN, and PDC, approved a temporary measure to allow Salvadorans who live overseas to vote in the presidential election. However, the Salvadorans will only be able to vote if they are in the country on Election Day, March 15, 2009. The regulation establishes a voting center in San Salvador solely for non-resident Salvadorans.

Even though this measure is a welcome change, it is still far from providing an absentee vote for Salvadorans who reside abroad and cannot travel to El Salvador to vote. About three million Salvadorans live abroad; which leave a quarter of the population that still does not have the right to vote.

To keep up on Salvadoran election issues, please visit the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections Blog.

– Claudia Rodríguez-Alas, DC Policy Office Director

Elections Watch: Municipal and Legislative Assembly Elections Will Take Place on January 18, 2009*

Electoral Calendar:

The official electoral campaign for mayors began on December 17, 2008. This campaign, along with the Legislative Representatives’ campaign, ended on January 14, 2009. The presidential campaign will have a five day recess beginning on January 14, 2009 due to the Legislative and Municipal elections that will be held on January 18, 2009.

On December 1, 2008, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) closed the process of registration for candidates. According to the registration, only the National Republican Alliance (ARENA), Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), National Conciliation Party (PCN), and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) registered candidates for Representatives to the Legislative Assembly and the Central American Parliament in all 14 departments of the country. The Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR) only presented registration of candidates for 10 departments, leaving out the Sonsonate, La Paz, and Morazán Departments. According to representatives of the FMLN, the inclusion of the FDR party flag on the ballots in Morazán, Sonsonate and the La Paz, without the registration of any FDR candidates in those departments, violates the articles 262 and 131 of the Electoral Code. “Permitting the appearance of the FDR political flag on the ballots, a party that does not have candidates in these departments, an illegal action is being allowed, which violates article 131, that establishes that only political parties or coalitions that present candidates may define the allocation of votes.”

Fears of potential fraud:

Mauricio Funes, FMLN presidential candidate, stated the sole presence of missions of observation teams is not enough to quell fears of a possible fraud in the 2009 elections. Funes asserted, “Once the irregularities are observed in person, how does the presence [of observation teams] serve the purpose, when there is no ability to make the necessary reforms to improve the system?” According to Funes, the key to safeguarding the upcoming elections is to overturn a reform to the Electoral Code that was approved in December 2007 that validates ballots regardless of signatures by the Secretary or President of the JRV, or Vote Receiving Board.

Presidential hopeful Funes is not the only person expressing concern about potential fraud. In an open letter entitled “Open Letter from U.S. Academics about Salvadoran Elections,” a group of 150 academics from around the world enumerate a series of conditions that generate worrisome conditions for the Salvadoran elections (see sidebar). According to the letter, the academics are concerned about possible intervention by the U.S. government, in line with what has occurred in past elections. The letter, published by the Council for Hemispheric Affairs, emphasized that the academics “are alarmed by the growing political violence, and atmosphere of impunity.” The group further makes reference to a series of reforms to the Electoral Code, which opens the “possibility for fraud.”

Members of the US Congress have also expressed concern about the upcoming Salvadoran elections in a letter sent to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. A group of fifty members of the United States House of Representatives urged the State Department to promote a free, fair, and transparent electoral process in the 2009 Salvadoran elections. The letter asserts, “It is important to ensure transparency in the electoral process, in order to head off voter concerns about dishonesty, fraud, or manipulation.” The letter, co-sponsored by Congressmen James McGovern (D-MA) and Dennis Moore (D-KS), respectfully requests the State Department to encourage and aid the Salvadoran government to establish well-defined mechanisms to prevent fraud in the upcoming elections, urge political parties to control deceptive campaigns that only garner votes based on fear, and carry out a comprehensive investigation of all acts of political violence during the pre-electoral period, on election day, and during the post-election transition period.

US Ambassador to El Salvador, Charles Glazer, ruled out the possibility of electoral fraud during the upcoming elections. “Electoral fraud will be very difficult,” said the diplomat, making note of the hundreds of observers from the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union and dozens of other countries that will guarantee the transparency of the electoral process.

Armed Groups:

According to the National Security Council (CSN), there are at least 40 illegal armed groups, composed of the inhabitants of areas where former FMLN guerrilla had influence, and that the groups are being trained in the use of weapons such as AK-47 rifles. The allegations are based on a series of photographs, which show youth in military uniforms with weapons in the community of Dimas Rodríguez, named for a former combatant of the FMLN. According to the CSN, these groups operate in or around Arcatao and Nueva Trinidad in the Chalatenango Department; Sabanetas in the Morazan Department; Bajo Lempa, Jiquilisco, and Tierra Blanca in Usulután; San Pedro mountain in San Vicente; and in a “chain” of territories, including El Paisnal, Suchitoto, La Bermuda, Guazapa and San Matías (in the San Salvador and Cuscatlán Departments).

Community members have rejected accusations of being involved with armed groups and affirmed that the accusation is a means to serve political parties in the upcoming elections. Human rights organizations claim there are plenty of illegal armed groups in El Salvador; however, they are organized crime groups rather than political ones. Upon the public statement release from the CSN, current Salvadoran President Antonio Saca asked for an investigation of the allegations, and ordered his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marisol Argueta, to file complaints before international organisms to affirm that these groups are linked to the FMLN. President Saca also asked for assistance from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during a diplomatic trip to Washington, DC. Two days later, President Saca retracted his statements, and declared that El Salvador does not necessarily need the intervention of the United Nations or the Organization of American States to investigate the supposed case of armed groups and the use of minors in military formations.

Mauricio Funes claims the armed groups allegations are another “dirty campaign” tactic of the ARENA party, whose presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, is not performing well in public opinion polls. Funes points out that after two years of investigation of the supposed armed groups, the ARENA party releases the information publicly immediately following the results of the Central American University’s Institute of Public Opinion poll, which shows a 16 point lead for the FMLN candidate in voter preference for the presidential elections.

A member of one of the elite National Civilian Police squads has stated that the news of supposed illegal armed groups in the country is part of the “propaganda show” of ARENA. The source, which for security reasons asked to not be named, stated the supposed organization of these armed groups was detected by the national intelligence in early 2006. However, the investigation was never made public because “the captain in charge said that President Saca gave the order to maintain the information secret, and would be disseminated in its time.” The informant also alleges that, “both the actual ARENA party presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, and the Police Commissioner, José Luis Tobar, knew of the existence of these armed groups since the year 2006, and where the groups come from.”

Salvadoran human rights organizations signed a document to be presented before international organizations such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in order to verify the role that the Public Minister is performing in the case of illegal armed groups in El Salvador. According to María Silvia Guillén, representative of the Coalition for Peace, Dignity and Social Justice, “[These actions] generate fear in the most vulnerable sectors, we know that troops were deployed to some rural areas and on Saturday three new military planes flew over the area of San Salvador. These types of things have an electoral end.” The social organizations emphasized that investigation of the government officials that are in the process of investigating the armed groups, should be profound and technical, in order to pronounce whether they have mounted a media “campaign” during the electoral process.

Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna, opened three cases related to the presence of armed groups claimed by the Armed Forces to be located in different points throughout the country. The first investigation aims to corroborate the participation of minors. The Ombudsman declared that if the reports were true, that the human rights implications would be very serious – a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a major regression since the Peace Accords.

The second file opened examines the complaint of the inhabitants of the Dimas Rodríguez community (from El Paisnal in the San Salvador Department, who feel concerned their community has been pointed out in the allegations of armed groups. They cite photographs that were taken during a commemoration of the death of a guerrilla combatant for which their community was named, a ceremony which has taken place every year for the past 16 years. In the photographs, community members appear in military uniforms with plastic toy weapons. The inhabitants have assured that the actions were commemorative in nature rather than “military training,” and that the weapons are not real. Community members even brought the plastic weapons to the Attorney General’s office for examination, although they were not allowed to enter the building. The photos were handed over to the FBI in order determine the veracity of the images and the weapons that appear.

The last file opened, was a complaint about the supposed presence, without permission, of a battalion of the Armed Forces on a private farm in El Papaturro, in La Bermuda, Suchitoto. Luna declared, “It could be a violation of private property,” and he further added it was “strange” that the Armed Forces would claim they are only doing routine exercises “in the current context (of the armed groups).”

Political Violence:

The National Civilian Police registered at least 45 violent acts with political motivations during the electoral campaign, the majority of which are linked to the painting and wheat pasting of campaign materials. From October until December 2008, 38 violent acts were reported ranging from insults to injuries inflicted by supporters of political parties in competition. The remaining 7 reported violent acts occurred in January. The Attorney General informed that it is currently investigating 10 complaints of political violence that have occurred throughout the metropolitan area of San Salvador.

Oscar Luna, Human Rights Ombudsman, affirmed on December 14, 2008 that his office has received 6 complaints of aggression between political party activists, most of which are filed by the majority parties ARENA and the FMLN. According to Luna, his office will make a formal pronouncement in January to determine those responsible and point out those politically responsible, with first and last names. He also reiterated the need for political parties to search for a peaceful way to develop their electoral campaigns in order to avoid the mistrust and fear of the Salvadoran population. The political parties signed a pact of “no violence” on October 7, 2008, proposed by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, which contemplates violence prevention campaigns within the parties, avoiding confrontational language, disciplinary means of control, and respect for the results of the 2009 elections. Luna has further urged the Attorney General’s office to speed up the investigation of violent incidents and find those responsible.

Observers from the European Union (EU) demanded that the Attorney General speed up the investigation of recent acts of violence, while calling for peace among the political parties to prevent violence. The observers asked head party officials to send a message of tolerance to their supporters in order to stop any future conflicts. “We call on the Attorney General to give priority to investigation, and if responsibilities are found, submit the cases to be judged,” requested the deputy chief of mission, José Antonio de Gabriel. The mission of observers also asked the TSE to continue preparing for elections, but also to send their own call for sanity.

The TSE finally called on the political parties to take more strict internal measures in order to avoid confrontations during activities, warning them that the National Civilian Police and the Attorney General will act vigorously against these cases. The message portrayed by a closed-door meeting between representatives of the TSE, the Public Ministry, and the political parties was: “zero tolerance.” The parties renewed their commitment to not generate conflict or violence.

On January 3, 2009, with less than 15 days until the Municipal and Legislative elections, two police officers were injured when intervening in a dispute provoked by FMLN and ARENA party activists, in the municipality of Santo Tomás. The opposition party supporters were arguing about the posts and walls where they would be hanging up and painting political propaganda. The National Civilian Police detained six presumed FMLN activists, who they accused of provoking the disorder. According to witnesses, the fight began at 3 pm, minutes before a group of 114 ARENA activists had started a shift of painting and hanging up propaganda on posts and walls of houses in the community El Progreso.

On the same day, Ulises Vladimir Pérez, 17 years-old and a political activist for the FDR political party, was stabbed, while hanging up political propaganda with other party members. According to Oscar Equivel, FDR Legislative Assembly candidate for San Salvador, 12 people approached the group of FDR members hanging up propaganda, and specifically attacked Pérez, who was stabbed in the abdomen and the neck. The FDR said that the attack is not an isolated incident, in consideration of two other attacks on their campaign house, one in which a computer was stolen. On December 21, 2008, another FDR supporter, and relative of Pérez, was injured in a stabbing; Pérez was a witness to that crime. Although the FDR did not want to point a finger at any particular responsible party, suspects have been apprehended in the case. The FDR has not only had incidents of violence in San Martin, they have also had problems in the municipalities of Ayutuxtepeque, Apopa, and Mejicanos, which are governed by the FMLN. The National Civilian Police (PNC) did not make any conclusions about his death being gang related, although the eight persons detained in his killing have been identified as gang members. Arnoldo Bernal, of the FDR political party, insists that Pérez’s assassination in San Martin had political connotations. The Attorney General, Fiscal Garrid Safie, denies those connotations, emphatically arguing that the case is gang-related.

Three people were killed in the middle of the night on Friday, January 9, 2009, in the in the municipality of Tamabal in the Morazán Department. The victims were identified as Maximino Rodríguez, 26 years-old, and Delfo de Jesús Rodríguez, 63 years-old and a former FMLN combatant. According to the official report by the National Civilian Police (PNC), at least seven men dressed in dark clothing similar to police uniforms, arrived at the Rodríguez house in a double cabin vehicle and shot indiscriminately with high caliber weapons, causing the immediate death of both victims. The National Civilian Police (PNC) have detained three of the seven suspects and seized their weapons. Sub-Commissioner Herbert Larios claimed the motive for the crime is still unknown, but it could be related to a personal dispute.

Less than a week before Legislative and Municipal elections, ARENA party activists attacked a group of FMLN supporters while they were handing out elections propaganda in support of Violeta Menjívar, the FMLN mayor of San Salvador who is running for re-election. Four people were injured by rocks thrown from three pick-up trucks by ARENA party activists. Those injured include: FMLN member Ricardo Alvarado; Magaly Menjívar, the mayor’s niece; Alma Reyes, a sales executive for Suzuki; and an unidentified motorcyclist, the last two were moved to the Hospital Rosales for treatment. Around 6:00 pm, the mayor of San Salvador was near the Salvador del Mundo roundabout when ARENA party activists appeared and threw rocks at the group that accompanied her. The dispute continued when FMLN supporters pursued the ARENA activists, who responded with gun fire, inciting general panic among the activists and pedestrians. Violeta Menjívar responded to the event saying, “These people are armed, some are thugs and there are from Norman Quijano’s (ARENA’s mayoral candidate for San Salvador) group, I ask them to stop the violence, and I call on the international observers to condemn these types of violent actions that don’t result in anything. We hope that the PNC will do its job and identify those responsible.” Menjívar also filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office in response to the attack, in which she requested the investigation and verification of videos that members of her political party had taken during the attack in order to document those responsible.

Foreign Intervention

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Marisol Argueta, sought appointments with the Ambassadors of Spain and Italy after two European Union (EU) Parliament members made public opinions regarding the upcoming Salvadoran elections. Minister Argueta asked the ambassadors to remind foreigners that visit the country of the law prohibits them from announcing their opinions. Argueta refers to article 97 of the Salvadoran Constitution, which establishes that no foreigner shall participate directly or indirectly in the internal politics of the country. The same law is reiterated in Article 8 of the Immigration Law and article 292 of the Electoral Code. Two EU Parliament members during their visit to El Salvador made supportive statements of candidate Mauricio Funes during a televised interview on Channel 21. A Spanish member of the EU Parliament, Willy Meyer Pleite, stated, “If I were Salvadoran, I am not, of course I am a leftist, I would vote for the FMLN. If I were a conservative, if I were a salesman, or a businessman, I would also vote for the FMLN.” In the interview, the Parliamentarians also stated that they are in El Salvador, not as electoral observers from the European Union, but as invitees of the FMLN to do campaigning for the FMLN, because they agree with their political plans.

President Antonio Saca has reiterated the Minister’s request that foreigners not support political parties nor intervene in the internal politics of the country. “This applies to everyone,” he emphasized. According to Saca, the same rule should also apply to the group Fuerza Solidaria (Solidarity Strength), a Venezuelan organization that has been accused of defaming the FMLN throughout the campaign period. The FMLN has filed two complaints against Fuerza Solidaria before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) for its “dirty campaign” tactics.

In concurrence with Saca’s statement, FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, stated, “I respect the position of the Government…it must be requested… that [foreigners] abstain from giving declarations that could be taken as an intervention in internal affairs.” Sigfriedo Reyes, FMLN Spokesperson, responded that Minister Argueta is not in any position to complain about foreign intervention when she requested U.S. intervention just a few months ago. “I do not think she is the correct person, she does not have the moral reliability and politics to speak about foreign intervention.”

Other accusations of “foreign intervention” in the Salvadoran electoral process that have been denounced by different political parties include:

  • A Nicaraguan detained by authorities while handing out newspapers with information in opposition to the FMLN;
  • The participation of the Venezuelan organization, Fuerza Solidaria, in the publicity campaign that is disseminated in the media which makes false claims about the political consequences of an FMLN victory in the presidential elections;
  • The donation from the company Alba Petroleos to mayors of the FMLN has been interpreted as a means to influence national politics; and
  • Political parties are frequently accused of mobilizing foreigners (Hondurans and Nicaraguans) to vote in El Salvador

Faults in the Election Results Transmission Program<

Throughout December and January, the TSE conducted three trials of the electronic elections results transmission. For the trial process, the TSE convoked the OAS, the Electoral Safeguard Board, political party representatives, and diplomatic bodies so they may give their vote of confidence to the trials. There has been disagreement among the members of the TSE regarding the reliability of the electronic transmission of results.

TRIAL 1:

The first transmission trial resulted in technical difficulties arising from network failures. The ballot information is collected at 253 Centers of Transmission throughout the 14 Departments of the country, where the information is to be scanned and faxed to be sent to the National Center for Elections Results Processing (CNPRE) to be counted. Political parties have made demands that the TSE correct the problems presented in the first trial, and to give new guarantees that the program will work by the Legislative and Municipal elections. In four hours of the trial, the elections results transmission program only processed 3,625 of the municipal acts, which equals 37% of the total amount needed to be counted. The legislative acts did not fare much better, with the system only processing 43% of the acts with hypothetical results of the elections for Legislative Assembly. Members of the TSE recognized the dilemma and attributed the problems to the saturation of images that congested the data reception in the CNPRE. This is the first time the TSE combined the receipt of data by fax with data scanned transmitted via the internet.

TRIAL 2:

The TSE conducted the second trial of the elections results transmission program on December 21, 2008. The trial was more fluid, but registered new errors in the information system that will be used in the first counting of votes. In the second trial, the CNPRE processed only 40% of the hypothetical acts for the legislative elections, and only 27% of the acts for municipal councils. The transmission registered a delay in the receipt of documents from the Data Transmission Centers. The mission of observers from the European Union (EU) participated in the second trial. “We identify an elevated level of transparency. It remains to improve enough in the transmission of acts from the center of each department,” said Jose Antonio de Gabriel, one of the EU observers. The TSE magistrates agreed to attempt another trial of transmission results, due to the faults detected in the first and second trials.

TRIAL 3:

The TSE employed the use of a “call center” in order to coordinate the receipt of acts in the third trial of the results transmission system. The “call center” will control the receipt of acts. The TSE contracted 4 technical officers from the Center of Assessment and Electoral Promotion (CAPEL) to conduct an audit of the transmission process. These technical officers have handed in some recommendations, and based on this report, the TSE decided to contract them to offer support in different areas of the system and to rent more printers for elections day.

The third trial occurred on January 10, 2009, only 10 days prior to the actual Legislative and Municipal elections. In the presence of the entire TSE team, organized exactly as they will be situated on elections day, with the presence of the observers from the OAS, errors were detected in the server and the saturation of the collection system of information. “It is worrisome what is resulting. In my report I have at 5:50 (6 is the time the trial ends), the consolidated counting of ballots only reached 16%,” commented Liliam Sorto, general director of the Electoral Safeguard Board, who added: “The server started errors at 3:30pm, also in the Departments there were problems with faxes and scanners, among other things.”

The TSE has formulated a “Plan B” that includes new, advanced technological equipment, tested during the trial, which could be used in case of a technological error in the original plan. They also have developed an emergency plan that they will implement if the other two options fail.

Observer Missions:

The TSE has announced that they already have the confirmation of 120 international elections observers to participate in the Municipal and Legislative elections programmed for Sunday, January 18, 2009. In this group is included around 80 observers from the Organization of American States (OAS), observers from the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms (UNIORE), and the European Union.

The Organization of American States (OAS) installed an official mission in El Salvador in order to safeguard the impartiality and independence of the upcoming Presidential, Municipal, and Legislative elections. The OAS began its support of the TSE in 2007, with the development of an audit of the electoral process, which left as a result 56 recommendations for the TSE. The observer mission will consist of 80 observers, and will remain in the country from December 1, 2008 until the conclusion of their work in both electoral processes of 2009.

The European Union (EU), for the first time, will send a mission of Election Observers that will participate before, during, and after both Salvadoran electoral processes. Wouter Wilton, the European Union Ambassador to El Salvador, declared that their participation in the electoral development of the country is to support democracy and generate greater confidence of the population regarding the Municipal, Legislative, and Presidential election results that will be obtained in January and March 2009.

Representatives of the Inter-American Union of Electoral Organisms and the TSE signed an electoral observation agreement, through which they will incorporate the rest of the missions of international observers for the upcoming elections. Roberto Cuellar, Executive Director of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH), assured that UNIORE’s observer mission will include the participation of approximately 35 electoral magistrates, whom will serve as chiefs of mission.

Forty observers from the United States government will participate in the upcoming January and March elections. According to the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Charles Glazer, the designation of these observers, which will be distributed throughout the entire country, responds to the interest of helping the Salvadoran electoral process be as transparent as possible.

In order to support the development of the elections in El Salvador, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) will offer technical assistance to the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP). According to Alison Miranda, of NDI, “our work consists in accompanying the development of electoral processes in the areas of citizen participation, right to vote, observation and participation of political parties.” The last time the NDI assisted with the electoral process in El Salvador was over 15 years ago; however due to lack of resources, the non-profit organization was unable to assist in other recent elections.

In coordination with the NDI, the University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP) of the Central American University (UCA) will deploy 2,000 national elections observers. This is the first time that the TSE has named an official group of national observers for elections. The IUDOP has selected its observers among employees and students of the UCA; one of the established pre-requisites for participation is that observers must not be affiliated with any political party. The IUDOP observers will be authorized to participate in counting the final results of the ballots, and have access to a copy of the acts used in the quick count of votes. The IUDOP is also authorized to make pronouncements regarding any anomalies detected in the pre-electoral process.

ATTORNEY GENERAL AND PRESIDENT ACCUSE FMLN OF HIRING GANG MEMBERS TO PAINT AND WHEATPASTE ELECTIONS PROPOGANDA

The Attorney General began the first investigation regarding the involvement of delinquent gang members in the activist brigades of the FMLN that participate in propaganda activities. The investigation is against six youth detained on January 3, during a dispute between FMLN and ARENA supporters in the community El Progreso of Santo Tomás. According to the Attorney General’s office, they have testimonies, including declarations of the detained, and photographs as proof that they are gang members. The six were charged with disorderly conduct, and five of the suspects were released after six hours in custody. Only Francisco Vásquez Sánchez, who is an employee of the Judicial Protection Unit of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), is still detained and is further being accused of injuring two police officers during the dispute. Although the Attorney General claims that the youth declared themselves gang members, those accused have denied it, assuring that they will sue for defamation. “We are not gang members, nor do we have links to them, we are FMLN supporters, nobody is paying us, we are working people,” expressed Eriberto Sánchez. The FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, denied the participation of gang members in the FMLN.

A Santo Tomás judge, Carlos Alberto Valiente, proceeded with the case accusing FMLN member, Francisco Vasquez Sanchez, of injuring two police officers. Valiente also found that the accused should present himself once a week to the court room in order to sign, while the awaiting the preliminary trial. Vásquez Sánchez presented himself punctually to his appointment at the court, after his release on January 6, 2009 when the Prosecutor did not request his detention. President Saca affirmed the accusation of the Attorney General, Garrid Safie, that there are gang members inside the FMLN’s activist base. “I have no doubt that in the FMLN there are gang members, this party has had gang members for a long time,” the President declared before pleading with the party to stop using them because they are “dangerous.”

The Latest Public Opinion Polls

The following graphs are from IUDOP and provide an interesting glimpse into the state of public opinion regarding various aspects of the impending elections:For

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Elections Watch: October Update

marisolconcondiReactions to Salvadoran Foreign Affairs Minister’s Controversial Speech in Washington, DC
In a speech before the Washington, DC conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute, on September 18, 2008, Marisol Argueta, El Salvador’s Foreign Affairs Minister, directly appealed to the United States to concern itself with the possibility of a “populist” victory in the upcoming elections. Argueta urged the audience by stating, “losing El Salvador will be a lose-lose proposition for both the security and national interests for both El Salvador and the United States.” She then implied that the opposition party win could send El Salvador back 30 years to a “time of turmoil,” and, quoting former US President Ronald Reagan, that “the security of the United States is at stake in El Salvador.”

The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) denounced Argueta’s statements as violations of the Salvadoran Constitution that compromise the sovereignty of the country. “She emitted compromising declarations that injure national dignity and cause severe damage to foreign relations,” denounced Sigfrido Reyes, FMLN Communications Secretary. Civil society organizations, such as the Foundation for the Study and Application of Law (FESPAD) and the Forum for the Defense of the Constitution (FDC), also publicly denounced the Minister’s discourse as a violation of the Constitution.

President Antonio Saca attributed Argueta’s remarks to freedom of expression. “I find no problem in the declarations of the Chancellor Marisol Argueta de Barilla.” When asked whether it is legal for a Minister to participate in electoral campaigning, given that Article 218 of the Salvadoran Constitution prohibits public officials from using their positions in order to participate in party politics, the president assured that she has not committed any violations.

Argueta has defended herself, denying that she was asking for US intervention in the elections, and that her statements did not refer to any political party in general, although her speech made clear allusion to an “orthodox remnant of the guerilla.” In a press release, the Minister stated that she “laments the interpretation that been given to her speech,” and that her remarks were poorly interpreted due to the existing “political environment [in El Salvador]….If there is any person that feels they were alluded to or damaged, I lament it profoundly and, in no moment, was this my intention.”
US Ambassador Reiterates Position of Non-Intervention in Upcoming Salvadoran Elections1

glazerandsacaIn other news, US Ambassador to El Salvador, Charles Glazer, reaffirmed the United States’ position of neutrality in the upcoming Salvadoran elections while prompting citizens to be vigilant of their own political process to prevent foreign intervention. Glazer stated, “On numerous occasions, we have declared that our position is that the United States does get involved in domestic politics [in El Salvador] and will not do so….I would ask the media and the people of El Salvador to observe Venezuela with equal attention, because that country is clearly influencing local politics [in El Salvador].” The influence that Glazer refers to is a subject of an open investigation by the Salvadoran Attorney General with regard to the mixed economy corporation, Alba Petroleum, formed by Venezuela Petroleum and a group of 19 municipalities of the FMLN by means of the Inter-Municipal Association of Energy for El Salvador (Enepasa).

Criticism of “Dirty Campaign” Tactics
The Archbishop of San Salvador, Fernando Saenz Lacalle, has publicly criticized the dirty campaign ads that have been transmitted on radio and television throughout October. The ads, sponsored by a little known Venezuelan organization called Fuerza Solidaria (Solidarity Strength), claim that the FMLN has “very close” relations with Venezuelan President Huge Chávez, who Fuerza Solidaria classifies as an “enemy of the United States.” The ads raise the issue that if the FMLN were to win the presidential election in 2009, the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Salvadorans living and working in the United States would be put in danger, and that remittances would no longer reach the millions of families who currently receive them. The basis for Saenz Lacalle’s criticism is the lack of positive value of the advertisements, as well as the possibility of further political polarization in Salvadoran society.

Salvadoran Ombudsman, Oscar Luna, also publicly criticized the campaign tactics of Fuerza Solidaria, calling them “dirty propaganda.” According to the Human Rights Ombudsman, it is not acceptable to “use the image of a person to damage his dignity, integrity, and subjective honor, nor is it correct to use photographs of a president of another country in other to place in doubt the governance and candidacy of a political party.” Luna has classified the messages as confrontational rather than educational, in violation of the “No Aggression Pact” promoted by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office and signed by the different political parties of El Salvador, and he has asked the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to make a pronouncement regarding the advertisements. “[The Tribunal’s] pronouncement will contribute to guaranteeing a transparent electoral process without violence.”

The Salvadoran Electoral Code establishes that only duly registered political parties may participate in campaigning, and that propaganda intended to defame, insult, or slander will be punished in conformity with the law. Sanctions may only be applied if the Electoral District Attorney investigates the case. To date, neither the TSE nor the Electoral District Attorney, Elena Margarita Morán de Mejía, has made any public comment regarding the “dirty campaign.”

Jaime Handal, Fuerza Solidaria Representative in El Salvador, Assumes Responsibility for Fuerza Solidaria Campaign
Jaime Handal has taken responsibility for launching the Fuerza Solidaria campaign as an “educational strategy.” Handal is best known as the unsuccessful ARENA mayoral candidate of San Salvador; he is currently running for a position as a substitute member of the Legislative Assembly for the ARENA party. Rodrigo Ávila, ARENA’s presidential candidate, defended the ARENA party, stating that although Handal is a member of the party, Handal is dessiminating the advertisements in role as a citizen.
Alejandro Peña Esclusa, the founder of the Fuerza Solidaria and former presidential candidate for Venezuela in 1998, has denied that the organization is carrying out a “dirty war” campaign against the FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes. Peña Esclusa has asked Funes “to speak frankly” about the supposed links between the FMLN and the FARC, a leftist guerilla group in Colombia, and Hugo Chávez. He has also said, “You and your party want to silence our voice because you do not tolerate anyone who tells you the truth; you do not allow anyone to discover you or the people to know you or the people to know who you are.”

To watch the television ads financed by Fuerza Solidaria, click here.
To see Channel 21’s investigative news broadcast about the dirty campaign, click here.

ARENA Picks VP Candidate, Arturo Zablah
zablahandsacaFive months before the Salvadoran presidential election, the Republican National Alliance’s (ARENA) candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, announced his pick for Vice President, Arturo Zablah. Zablah is a business man with Capri Industries, S.A., who served as Minister of the Economy under the Alfredo Cristiani ARENA administration, and later as president of the Executive Commission of Port Authority (CEPA) during the Armando Calderón Sol ARENA administration. Since leaving CEPA in the mid-1990s, Zablah transformed in into a tough critic of the ARENA administration, especially with regard to economic policies, such as the dollarization of the Salvadoran economy in 2001. ARENA’s VP pick has been most recently known for when he offered himself as a presidential candidate for whichever political party would be interested in supporting his bid to secure the presidency earlier this year. However, that proposal resulted fruitless, which has allowed him to be available to serve as the VP candidate on the ARENA ticket next March.

Latest Public Opinion Polls
The Francisco Gavidia University’s Center for Public Opinion recently polled 1,628 people of voting age in El Salvador about their pre-election preferences for the upcoming 2009 elections. When asked to assess the media’s coverage of the ARENA and FMLN candidates, 86.7% of those surveyed believe the media favors one candidate over another, with 96.5% saying that ARENA receives more positive coverage. 67% of those polled believe that the FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, will implement change, while 60.9% believe Rodrigo Ávila, the ARENA presidential candidate, will maintain the same policies as the current ARENA administration.

The FMLN has held a steady lead over ARENA in various pre-election polls, and the latest University of Central America (UCA) poll affirms that lead. The UCA’s Institute for Public Opinion (IUDOP) survey polled 1,257 people throughout El Salvador in September 2008 with regard to their opinions on the 2009 electoral process. Reflecting on the current ARENA administration headed by President Antonio Saca, 54.5% of those surveyed think the situation has worsened under his administration, while an overwhelming 81.3% believe the country needs a change in direction. Many thought the majority parties had maintained their reputations – 45.6% perceiving that ARENA’s reputation had not changed and 40.8% perceiving that the FMLN’s reputation has not changed. Of those who thought the parties’ reputations had changed, 35.6% felt that ARENA’s image had worsened whereas 37.1% felt that the FMLN’s image had improved.

On the subject of voter turnout, 86.2% stated that they would vote on Election Day, 8.4% do not plan on voting, and 5.3% do not know if they will make it to the polls. What is most worrisome about the results of the survey is that 54.4% of those polled have little or no faith in the 2009 electoral process and 55% predict fraud in the upcoming election.

Below is graph of the six most recent public opinion polls detailing voter preferences for the 2009 presidential election and the percentage point differences between the candidates. To download the original surveys, see the DOCUMENTS tab of this blog.

Researched and written by Michelle Petrotta, Lars Joon Flydal, & Anna Sanger.
1 Diario de Hoy. October 1, 2008. “Glazer señala la injerencia de Venezuela.”

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September 2008

Opening Day for Salvadoran Electoral Period Launched Two and a Half Weeks Ahead of Schedule

In unanticipated news, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) recently changed the opening date for the electoral period from September 17, 2008 to September 1, 2008. The TSE maintains that it changed the date so the start of the electoral period could coincide with the start of the civic month and in order to be in an electoral climate during the IX Conference of Electoral Organisms, which took place September 3-4. However, some political parties understand the decision, made without complete consensus of the TSE, as a means of avoiding that Municipal Council elections are based on the 2007 census.

On Friday, September 19, 2008, the Electoral Registry was updated to show that 4,266,000 people are eligible to vote in the 2009 elections at the close of the voter registration process. This signifies that any person registering for a new Unique Identification Document (DUI) that is issued after midnight last Friday is not eligible to vote in the 2009 elections. However, the TSE has reiterated the validity of that decree that permits citizens to vote in the 2009 elections with an expired DUI.

The Electoral Registry reports 837,000 more Salvadorans than the 2007 Salvadoran census. Juan Jose Guerrero, president of the National Registry of National Persons (RNPN) stated that about 500,000 of those registered to vote are Salvadorans living abroad and about 100,000 correspond to deceased Salvadorans, which leaves well over 200,000 persons listed in the Electoral Registry without explanation. Xiomara Aviles, Director of the Electoral Registry of the TSE, stated that during the registration process, they were able to purge 10,386 names of people who had died, were repeared in the registry, or who had been sentenced in a judicial process and therefore lost their right to vote in the upcoming elections. Nevertheless, the TSE has not been able to purge 100% of the deceased from the Electoral Registry, and the reduction of ineligible voters from the registry still leaves more than 200,000 persons listed as eligible to vote that are unaccounted for in the 2007 census.

Furthermore, the change in population reflected in the 2007 census requires a redistribution of electoral districts; however, the census does not become official until it is published in the Diario Oficial, which is the equivalent of the US Federal Registry. The Ministry of Economy in El Salvador has stated that it should become official at some point before September 17, 2008. That has not been the case at the time of writing.

The change of the opening date of the elections has allowed the government to avoid explanation of the inconsistency of numbers between the census and the Electoral Registry, as well as to avoid the re-adjustment of electoral districts. Some analysts state that if the Electoral Registry were to coincide with the census, urban areas, which tend to favor the FMLN (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front), would have more electoral weight compared to rural areas. The Organization of American States (OAS) has expressed concern that by changing the date, and consecuently not correlating the Electoral Registry with the 2007 census, the Salvadoran government is violating the principal of equality among voters.

TSE Attempts to Quiet Controversy on Legislative Assembly’s Electoral Reforms

The Salvadoran Legislative Assembly passed Decree No. 502 on December 6, 2007 (published January 3, 2008), which eliminates the need of the signature of an election official on individual ballots in order to authenticate the votes on the ballots for the 2009 Salvadoran elections. Each polling spot in El Salvador has its own “Vote Receiving Board” or Junta Receptora de Votos (JRV). Prior to Decree No. 502, the president and secretary of each JRV signed and stamped each individual ballot in front of each voter prior to handing it over for the vote to be cast. Each voter witnessed the validation of his or her vote, and unused ballots were left unsigned, then counted and returned. Under this method, any ballot lacking the appropriate validation signatures was considered null. As a result of the legislative reform to the Electoral Code (Decree No. 502), and ballot cast, regardless of whether it has signatures by the president or secretary of the JRV, is valid. This reform has provoked controversy and concern by many Salvadorans and the Organization of American States (OAS). In order to quash any concerns over potential fraud, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) attempted to reinstate the signature process on September 11, 2008 by issuing administrative instructions for the voting process to incorporate JRV signatures, albeit without each voter witnessing the signature of his or her individual ballot. Eight days later and in response to controversy regarding the instructions, the TSE reverted their last instruction regarding the signatures, which means that the signature process will continue the same way it did prior to Decree No. 502.

The instructions outlined by the TSE may calm the worries of the masses regarding the signature process; however, it is important to understand that the TSE’s instructions do not have legal authority to overrule the Legislative Assembly’s Decree No. 502, which makes the signatures unnecessary for the validation of votes. Therefore, the TSE’s instructions will only affect the voting process with regard to the signatures, rather than the validation of the votes because the law passed under Decree No. 502 has not been revoked. The instructions emitted by the TSE do not have the legal weight to overrule Decree No. 502 when it comes to determining the validity of the votes; all ballots will be considered valid whether or not they have the JRV signatures. Therefore, any signatures on the ballots or voting process instructions regarding the signatures are inconsequential, rather than a safeguard of free and fair elections in El Salvador.

To find out how you can help support free and fair elections in El Salvador, see the sidebar about SHARE’s 2009 elections delegations!

– Researched and written by Michelle Petrotta and Anna Sanger, SHARE Foundation.

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