Updated from Tuesday, March 18th
On Sunday, March 16th, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) officially announced Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Oscar Ortiz as the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect of El Salvador. The declaration was signed on to by all five of the TSE magistrates, including the magistrate from the National Republican Alliance party, ARENA, and was overseen by representatives from both political parties, the Attorney General´s office, the Human Rights office, and observers from the EU and OAS.
The TSE finished the final scrutiny - a process that reviewed the voting centers that could not be processed Sunday night due to administrative errors - Thursday night, but could not officially declare a winner because the electoral law stipulates a 48 hour waiting period after the final scrutiny during which a political party has the right to file a legal challenge. In this case, ARENA filed a challenge alleging electoral fraud and called for the election to be annulled. Last night, all five TSE magistrates found the claim to be without basis - and without evidence - and threw it out, allowing them to finally officially announce a winner.
However, ARENA has another 48 hours from the official announcement to respond with yet another legal challenge, and they are refusing to accept the Supreme Electoral Tribunals final ruling. The party has filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme court, an institution that is known for ruling in favor of the Salvadoran right-wing. While a Court magistrate reiterated that the TSE is the highest electoral authority and they can only intervene should they determine that the Constitution was violated, he also stated that several cases that were pending during the elections - questioning the elegiblity of Sanchez Ceren and Norman Quijano´s candidacy - have been ruled on and will be announed at a later date. In related news, the US Embassy has yet to issue a statement congratulating the TSE or acknowledging the FMLN and Sanchez Ceren victory. A US Embassy tweet sent out Wednesday, March 19, asked for calm while the ¨legal process¨ finalizes, and said that they will happily work with ¨whichever¨candidate is elected.
This entire process has been tense as the entire country waited for results amidst protests from ARENA alleging fraud, closing down important streets, and even using language that many interpreted as a call to war.
Analysis from the Salvadoran Social Movement (MPR-12)
For many in the Salvadoran social movement, the close results where surprising, given that most polls 3 weeks before the elections had the FMLN and Salvador Sanchez Ceren ahead of ARENA and Norman Quijano by at least 10 percentage points, some even going as high up as 18 points. The high voter turnout was also a surprise, given that many analysts had assumed that third party UNIDAD voters would opt out of the voting process. Indeed, 296,000 more voters exercised their democratic right on March 9th than on February 2nd, making a total of more than 3 million voters – the most people that have ever voted in El Salvador, even including for population growth. Of these new voters, ARENA managed to capture the majority of them and more, for a total of 400,000 new voters.
How did they manage to recover all those votes in less than 3 weeks?
A few key campaign strategies worked, like mobilizing their bases that had not showed up in force on February 2nd (probably fed up with all of the party´s corruption scandals) as well as a successful courting of the Evangelical and Catholic populations. In addition, UNIDAD voters from the first round voted in force for ARENA, despite the coalition party leader´s statements of support for the FMLN. But the most effective campaign strategies were dirty and reminiscent of a not-so-distant past, full of vote buying, bribery, and mobilization of the private business sector to pressure their employees - all centered on a favorite right wing theme: fear. This year´s fear factor was a convenient and simplistic comparison to Venezuela and the right wing´s temper tantrum there that has been portrayed by the international mainstream media as some sort of widespread social revolt – in fact the TSE ordered ARENA to stop transmitting a slanderous TV ad in the week before the campaign officially ended.
The FMLN, for its part, received the most votes ever in the history of Salvadoran Presidential elections, and increased by 180,000 more votes than on February 2nd. ARENA´s complaints of fraud favoring the FMLN are unfounded, as can be attested to by every accredited international observer group that was present throughout this process. The calls for a ¨vote by vote¨ recount are even more unnecessary given that the vote count that happened on Sunday night was literally vote by vote, with representatives of ARENA as witnesses and signers of the final vote count forms, affirming that the numbers are correct. The high voter turnout, the excellent transparency and legality with which this electoral process has functioned is a testament to the great strides the Salvadoran people have made in building a true democracy.
The great project now will be governing. With such a razor thin margin, the mandate from the people is there, but it is the mandate of a divided and afraid people. ARENA will likely continue with its fear campaign and retrench as fierce opposition to the FMLN government, as they have seen and confirmed that people respond to desperate circumstances of economic insecurity and a constant threat of violence. Norman Quijano´s (unanswered) calls for a military coup d´état and violence were not the ramblings of a sore loser, but a calculated strategy to keep ARENA´s bases energized and ready for a long term fight, looking ahead to the 2015 Legislative and Municipal Elections. The Salvadoran social movement sees its role as one of proactivity, pushing the new government to continue its fight against corruption, privatization, and enivoronmental destruction, and to back up the new government against right-wing attacks. The right wing won votes of fear and desperation, but the FMLN won votes of ideological conviction.
Even though the TSE has officially announced the winner of the election, ARENA has not yet given up trying to nullify the results, alleging fraud. Just today, they have put in a new lawsuit against the TSE and the electoral process, this time with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court here. Although every international observation group, including the UN, the OAS, and the EU delegations, have praised the Salvadoran people and the TSE for a fair and transparent electoral process, neither the US Embassy nor the State Department have formally made a statement with the same acknowledgement.
On Wednesday, March 26, Sister Cities in conjunction with Witness for Peace host a live video webinar to report from El Salvador on the March Presidential elections, with participation from Sister Cities staff and key leaders of the MPR-12 (Popular Resistance Movement). Marcos, Antonia, and Abel of the MPR-12 will report about the hopes for the future administration of the FMLN and about the threats posed by the right wing to oppose the election results. Click here to register.Last week, Sister Cities put out an action alert to our bases, in coordination with other international solidarity organizations, to call your Congressperson, asking for them to urge the State Department and President Obama to congratulate the TSE. Until such action is taken, the US government is saying a lot by saying nothing, providing ARENA with space to interfere with the democratic process in El Salvador. Click here to see a draft script and more pertinent information.
For more electoral analysis, read:
Sister Cities: Update on Elections Results, Wednesday March 12
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