Elections 2012, News Highlights

Election Results and Highlights 2012

Last Sunday, Salvadorans went to the polls to elect mayors and legislative representatives – the first elections since March 2009 when Mauricio Funes became the first opposition candidate to win the country’s Presidency. It was the conservative ARENA party’s turn to celebrate yesterday, winning back control over the Legislative Assembly and a large number of important municipal seats.

According to the Supreme Election Tribunal website, the party totals for the Legislative Assembly are:

  • ARENA: 33 seats
  • FMLN: 31 seats
  • GANA: 11 seats
  • CN: 6
  • PES/CN: 1
  • CD: 1
  • PES: 1
  • Independent Candidates: 0

Despite the clear victory for ARENA, no single party has a simple majority of 43 seats and ARENA will have to depend on GANA or other minority parties to take action. As Tim’s Blog pointed out, it’s always possible that the FMLN, GANA, and CN could form a voting bloc and control the Legislative Assembly. While GANA is a conservative party, there may be political advantage in siding with the FMLN on occasion just to keep ARENA in check.

Sunday night, ARENA officials didn’t seem too worried about uniting with GANA. In 2009 when the FMLN won the Presidency and retained control over the Legislative Assembly, ARENA seemed to have hit rock bottom. In October of that year, however, they expelled ex-President Tony Saca from the party accusing him of rigging the selection process that named Rodrigo Avila as their presidential candidate; as well as conspiring to divide the party through the creation of the well-financed GANA party.  Before the elections, ex-President Saca called on the GANA and ARENA parties to unite for the 2014 elections to ensure victory over the FMLN.

But after making such an incredible comeback on Sunday, ARENA leaders again called Tony Saca and the Areneros who left to form GANA traitors and said they do not need to unite to defeat the FMLN in 2014. And ARENA leaders are already eyeing the 2014 elections. On Monday night, Norman Quijano, who won his second term as the mayor of San Salvador by handily defeating FMLN candidate Jorge Shafik Handal, said on Channel 33 that he is definitely considering running for president. Tony Saca has also indicated that he is interested in running for another term as President. Ana Vilma de Escobar, who was Tony Saca’s Vice President, has also made it clear that she is interested in running for President again – she had aspired to be the 2009 candidate before Avila was anointed. Vilma de Escobar did well on Sunday collecting more votes in San Salvador than any of the other legislative candidates on the ballot.

In addition to losing seats in the Legislative Assembly, the FMLN took a big hit in greater metropolitan are of San Salvador, which is comprised of 14 distinct municipalities. In addition to Mayor Quijano holding on to his office in San Salvador, ARENA candidates won in Mejicanos, Soyapango, Ilopango, Apopa, San Martín, Tonacatepeque y Ayutuxtepeque, as well as Santo Tomas just south of the city. As La Prensa Grafica pointed out yesterday, the population of these former FMLN strong holds is over 984,000. Though the margins of the ARENA victories were tight, they were victories none-the-less.

In Soyapong, the FLMN incumbent Don Carlos “Diablo” Ruíz” lost by a mere 309 votes.  Many have made the joke that ARENA had to perform an exorcism in Soyapongo to get out “El Diablo”.  Others are wondering what will become of the ALBA contracts, whose operations hinge on their partnerships with FMLN municipalities.  The Mayors of Apopa and Soyapongo hold the vice president and secretary positions, respectively.

FMLN spokesperson, Roberto Lorenzana, summarized his party’s losses yesterday during a press conference, saying that ARENA won 2.9% more votes, and took some of their symbolic strongholds – Soyapango, Apopa, and Mejicanos – four legislative seats, and more than 150,000 votes that they got in 2009. He said the party is accepting the results with maturity and responsibility, and will be looking at what lessons they need to take away from the losses.

Maria “Chichilco” Ofelia Navarrete, the former FMLN guerilla featured in the 1990 documentary “Maria’s Story” and current Vice-Minister of Government, said this week that Sunday’s results were a sign that El Salvador’s voters are maturing. She points to several politicians from the FMLN and ARENA who lost offices they’ve held for many years because voters wanted change instead of voting for the same parties and the same people. She sites examples from her home region in Chalatenango. In Pontonico, the FMLN mayor who has held his seat for many years lost by 10 votes to the ARENA challenger. Similarly, in San José Cansaque the ARENA mayor who had been in office for many years lost his seat to the FMLN challenger. She says:

“This means that every day the people are maturing in their democratic development… at times the people get fed up with the same government. The leadership from all parties has to reflect, first on the direction of their internal democracy – this is an urgent call.”

Sunday’s voting was not without complaints. On Sunday, officials closed the polls in two municipalities – San Lorenzo, Ahuachapán and San Miguel Tepezontes, La Paz. In San Lorenzo, the Municipal Electoral Board stopped voting to “protect people’s votes.” One report says that election officials closed the polls because FMLN supporters from other places were trying to vote in San Lorenzo. In San Miguel Tepezontes, opposition parties accused the ARENA incumbent mayor of bringing in voters from other municipalities to vote for him, which is of course of a violation of the election code. Because voting in these communities was stopped, the TSE announced that they will try again this Sunday, March 18th.  Eugenio Chicas, the president of the TSE said that those found responsible for closing the polls could receive up to 10 years of jail time.

In other communities, political parties have not accepted the results of Sunday’s election, claiming fraud. In the municipality of La Libertad, La Libertad, activists from the GANA, ARENA, and PNL parties protested the victory of FMLN-PES incumbent, claiming that he also brought in outsiders to throw the elections in his favor. The margin of victory is almost 700 votes, which would not be an insignificant amount of people to cast fraudulent votes. The ARENA party is also questioning Sunday’s results in other municipalities where they lost seats that they once held. In Nuevo Cuscatlán, La Libertad, ARENA leaders claim that the FMLN challenger won by bringing in outsiders to vote for him, and that they bought off members of the local voting board.

Perhaps the most extreme act on Sunday occurred in San Francisco Menendez, Ahuachapan where vandals broke into the voting center as officials were counting votes and burned the ballot boxes, destroying over 90% of the ballots. The article reporting the incident says that the police and attorney general’s office are investigating and have leads. Others in the community have accused the PDC Mayor Narciso Ramirez of election fraud, saying that he bused in outsiders to vote for him.  Mayor Ramirez has made national news a couple times over the past couple of years. Last October he made news during Tropical Storm 12-E because he was out assisting with the rescue efforts during the extreme flooding when his truck got swept away by the flooding Paz River. The Comandos de Salvamento pulled him and others from the vehicle and got them to safety. In April 2010, the Mayor made national news when he was caught in a shootout over a “business deal” gone bad. Mayor Ramirez was shot three times and three others were killed.

In Pasaquina, La Union, the attorney general has charged three people with electoral fraud. Police caught the men transporting flyers that threatened people going to vote. In Ozatlán, Usulután, officials have charged a man with voting twice.

The municipality of San Fernando, Morazán is going to have to have a run-off. Candidates for the ARENA and GANA parties each received 259 votes, meaning that there is no clear winner. The FMLN and CD parties were not far behind with 236 and 238 votes respectively. The TSE announced that they would hold a runoff after the Semana Santa vacations in April.

Continue to monitor final numbers at the TSE website, or check out the Faro’s all-inclusive time-line for the elections.

El Salvador Government, Elections 2012

A Look at Salvadoran Political Institutions, Part Two: Election Day Misconduct in 2009

On March 11, 2012, Salvadorans will cast votes for all 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly and the position of mayor in each of El Salvador’s 262 municipalities. As the parliamentary and municipal elections approach, we are taking a look at a variety of topics relating to Salvadoran political institutions and the pursuit of democracy. The first installment, posted on October 25, discussed efforts to add new voters to the Election Registry and increase the number of voting stations.

Today’s installment looks back to January 18, 2009, the day of the last parliamentary and municipal elections, in order to better understand possible challenges to free and fair elections on March 11, 2012. We focus on two examples of Election Day misconduct monitored and reported by international observers.

“While the January 18 (2009) legislative and local elections went fairly smoothly, serious deficiencies in the electoral process persist.” -Voices on the Border Delegation Report on January 2009 Elections in El Salvador

Campaigning In Voting Centers On Election Day

The Salvadoran Electoral Code explicitly prohibits promoting political parties or candidates (i.e. campaigning) three days before elections. Article 230 reads:

“Political Parties … and all citizens… are prohibited from campaigning … during the three days before elections and on the day of elections. Party propaganda is also prohibited in voting centers.”

The law, however, was not enforced in 2009. Election observers reported partisan groups displaying signs, making announcements, and handing out t-shirts, food, and money near voting centers. There were also reports of party enthusiasts carrying party propaganda, chanting party slogans, and disrupting voting, even within voting centers.

“Cases of intimidation were reported within the vicinity of, or inside, 25 percent of the observed voting centers,” according to European Union (EU) Electoral Observation Mission (EOM), which observed 118 out of 400 voting centers.

An even higher estimate came from The University Institute of Public Opinion (IUDOP), which observed a representative sample of 1,578 of the 9,534 total polling stations, on behalf of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). IUDOP noted, “30.0 percent of observed polling stations registered cases of either party propaganda inside voting centers or party members trying to verbally induce others to vote in a certain way.

The EU EOM attributes the behavior to “a pattern of excessively zealous party activism on Election Day in Salvadoran electoral culture,” but the behavior also confirms a degree of impunity for party promotion beyond the legal limits. Often, it was candidates running for office who brought party propaganda into the voting centers.

The Center for Exchange and Solidarity (CIS) election observation report documented individual cases of election misconduct. 12 out of 16 documented cases of party propaganda within voting centers involved political candidates, up to and including the ARENA presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila, who was interviewed within the voting center, surrounded by singing supporters, according to the report.

A more extreme case is documented in Santa Ana, Santa Ana:

“Between 11 and 11:45 a.m. Mayor Orlando Mena, of the PDC, was in the voting center with 50 party representatives (including the head of the voting center staff and other members of the staff), citizens dressed in [the party color] green, and some media singing ‘Mena yes! Others no!’ Mena voted, showed his ballot, and held an interview at 11:15 a.m. right next to polling station 03003.”

This provision of the electoral code is meant to provide a cooling off period just before the elections. It gives voters a recess from the otherwise intense and overwhelming campaigning, hopefully so they can make a clear decision about which candidate or party they want to vote for. For the same reason, the electoral code prohibits the consumption of alcohol during this same period – they want people to make clear sober decisions and avoid conflict. It remains unclear whether the no-drinking provision is enforced more or less than the others.

Voter Fraud

Following the 2009 elections we reported that one of the most serious issues with the January 18 elections was voter fraud, in which foreigners from Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala were bused into municipalities to vote. In addition, there were reports of Salvadorans voting in municipalities that were not their own.

At 9:50 a.m. on January 18, 2009, citizens protesting voter fraud forced officials in San Isidro, Cabañas to shut down the voting center and delay elections for one week. Citizens alleged that numerous individuals from nearby municipalities, including Ilobasco and Sensuntepeque, were illegally registered as San Isidro residents in order to influence elections. International observers also documented similar allegations in other municipalities and in the rescheduled San Isidro elections.

According to the EU EOM report, the problem of voter fraud stems from two under-regulated processes in El Salvador – applying for and modifying a national identification card (DUI).

In order to cast a ballot in the March 2011 elections, voters need to register for a DUI. Once registered, voters are automatically included in the Electoral Register, the official list of people eligible to vote at each voting center, complete with photo IDs and DUI numbers. On Election Day, voters arrive with their DUI and sign their name to complete the process. Anti-forgery devices on the DUI help to discourage fraud.

The problem, according to the EU EOM, is that voters can register a fraudulent address on their DUI in order to vote in a highly contested area. “The lack of rigorous controls on effective residency (utility bills, rent leases, children’s school enrollment codes, or other similar proof) in the procedures for modifying addresses opens up the possibility for parties to abuse these procedures.”

The EU EOM explains that by moving Salvadoran voters, “parties can transfer voters from a hypothetically safe, or lost, municipality to others, which are expected to be closely fought.”

“On the other hand,” the report goes on to say, “the lack of any safeguards or verification by other administrative bodies implies that the municipal authority has control over the issuance of birth certificates, which frequently leads to speculation that certain mayors seeking re-election may abuse the system by issuing false birth certificates.” With a false birth certificate, even voters from outside of the country can apply for a DUI and be placed on the Electoral Register.

There are two ways to address this particular problem. First, authorities can tighten procedures related to applying for and modifying a DUI, as the EU EOM recommends. However, part of the problem is that no one is sure of the extent of voting fraud. A second solution is the implementation of a Residential Voting program. As discussed in part one of this series, a residential voting program would create additional voting centers, subdividing the Electoral Register and bringing voting centers closer to homes. It is expected that fraud will be more easily identified within a more local group of voters.

In the coming weeks we will post another installment into this election series that will discuss the control that the political parties have had over the electoral process, and how the recent reforms to the Electoral Code will impact voters when they get into the booth.

Advocacy, El Salvador Government, Elections 2012, Uncategorized

Salvadoran Political Institutions, Part One: New Voters and Local Voting Locations

Before the rain started falling two weeks ago, dumping over 50 inches of rain on El Salvador and causing extreme flooding around the country, we began working on a series of articles regarding recent reforms to the Electoral Code. We will continue to report on the flooding and cleanup efforts, but we don’t want to do so at the cost of discussing other important issues in El Salvador – of which there are many.

“To guarantee Salvadoran society the autonomous and effective administration of democratic electoral processes; a reliable electoral register; prompt execution of the judicial aspects of the electoral process; full exercise of political rights and the promotion of a democratic civic culture.”

The “Mission” of El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE)

“The Electoral Register that we have audited is, in general terms, a reliable instrument. This consideration is accompanied, as is often the case in the international experience, with some challenges to improve upon.”

-Pablo Gutiérrez, Director of the Department for Electoral Cooperation and Observation at the Organization of America States (OEA), in a 2007 audit of El Salvador’s Electoral Register, quoted in the TSE 2009 annual report

On March 11, 2012, Salvadorans will cast votes for all 84 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and mayor in each of the 262 municipalities. As the parliamentary and municipal elections approach, Voices will be considering a variety of topics relating to Salvadoran political institutions and the pursuit of democracy.

Today’s installment examines new voter registration and attempts to bring voting centers closer to homes. In both areas, we look at recent attempts to improve voter participation.

New Voters – More than 75 percent of potential new voters ineligible to vote

On the 2012 election calendar, voter registration was set to close on September 12, 2011 180 days before the March elections. However, the Electoral Code says that any Salvadoran turning 18 years old after registration closes and before the election takes place will be included in the Electoral Register and eligible to vote provided that they register for a national identification card, or DUI, before the September 12 deadline.

While more than 58,000 Salvadorans will turn 18 during that window of time, fewer than 14,000, or 23.8 percent of these potential new voters registered for a DUI and will be eligible to participate, according to the National Citizens Registry (RNPN). The other 76.2 percent did not register for a DUI before a modified September 19 deadline, despite a registration campaign by the TSE.

The TSE praised the registration in a recent statement. “We are very satisfied with this campaign,” said TSE President Eugenio Chicas, referring to a three-week-long effort to register prospective voters. RNPN President Fernando Arturo Batlle Portillo similarly called the registration “successful,” even though 44,000 Salvadorans that could be participating in the March elections will not be.

This year’s campaign is better than some in the past. According to the TSE, the 2008 campaign leading up to 2009 national elections lasted four months and only registered 6,000 new voters out of 50,000 potential voters. In that light, the campaign can be seen as an improvement. However, as TuCanalLocal points out, the official 2009 TSE report lists 14,695 new voters under the age of 18, significantly more than the 6,000 claimed by TSE.

Nonetheless, Chicas said that more could be done to incorporate new voters who should be able to participate in elections. “The challenge remains significant and we should continue our efforts. I believe that we still lack work on a community level, we need more time and resources.”

The June-July 2011 constitutional standoff between the judicial and legislative branches is one problem with registration this year. The campaign to register new voters was scheduled to begin on August 12 and end 31 days later on September 12. However, the Legislative Assembly took longer to approve the budget for the General Election Plan (PLAGEL) than expected, pushing the start of the campaign back to August 29.

To compensate for the delay, the Assembly granted a one-week extension for voter registration, but the campaign still lost 10 days, lasting 21 days instead of the 31 days planned. Many of the new voters registered during this extension period – 7,000 new voters registered by September 12, according to the RNPN. Between September 12 and September 19, an additional 7,000 registered, with almost 5,000 registering on September 19th alone.

While 44,000 eligible youth will be sitting out the March 2012 elections, El Salvador now has 14,000 new names on the voter registry.

Local Voting Locations, or El Voto Residencial

“The current electoral model in El Salvador … concentrates voting locations in urban centers … without considering the distance that the voter will have to travel.” (TSE, “Concepts of residential voting”)

El Salvador is one of the last Latin American countries without a “residential voting” electoral model. For some citizens, the nearest voting location is 70-kilometers away. For many, the trek can be expensive, difficult, and a disincentive to vote.

The TSE is planning to implement a residential voting program throughout El Salvador over the course of the 2012 and 2014 elections, fulfilling political promises made continually since 1994. Under the new system, the TSE will open voting locations based on proximity to voters to facilitate access and improve electoral participation.

The initiative began in 2006, when the TSE implemented a “Voto Residencial” (Residential Voting) pilot program in seven municipalities. In 2009, the TSE expanded the pilot program to the Department of Cuscatlán, scaling up from 7 to 23 total municipalities. In the March 2012 elections, 185 of El Salvador’s 262 municipalities in central and eastern El Salvador are expected to participate in the program, plus key urban areas of San Salvador and Santa Tecla.

Reports on the 2006 and 2009 pilot initiatives demonstrate the impact of the program on the participating municipalities. Under the program, 18 voting centers grew to 73, averaging between two and ten centers per municipality.

The program had a positive effect on voter participation. In the 2004 presidential elections, 70 percent of Salvadorans on the Electoral Register in Cuscatlán cast a vote compared a national average of 67 percent. In the 2006 parliamentary elections, Cuscatlán had 63.5 percent electoral participation compared to a national average of 54 percent. In 2009, the pilot program in Cuscatlán had 65.5 percent participation in parliamentary elections and 71.5 percent participation in presidential elections compared to 54 and 63 percent respectively on the national level. While national participation remained the same or fell, participation in Cuscatlán, already higher than the national average, rose in both presidential and parliamentary elections.

Additionally, the program is expected to facilitate voting access for many of the most vulnerable members of Salvadoran society, including the elderly, persons with disabilities, and those without the financial means to travel a longer distance.

When voting centers are closer to home, it is also more difficult for political interests to perpetrate electoral fraud by bringing in people from other communities, or as has been alleged in previous elections, from Honduras or Nicaragua. Citizens are more able to police the voting registry and identify people that are not from their community.

Poco a poco, Salvadoran institutions are working together, or in some instances forcing other branches of government, to reform the electoral system so that more people vote, and to ensure their votes are counted. The campaign to register new, young voters and expanding voting centers are only two of the most recent reforms. In the coming weeks and months we will explore reforms to the ballot that voters will use once they are in the booths, efforts to decentralize power once held by political parties, and other changes.

El Salvador Government, Elections 2012

Three Weeks Left to Register to Vote in El Salvador: 57,310 New Voters Oblivious of Deadline

The National Registrar (CNR) and Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) are scrambling to get 98.2% of new voters to register before September 12th when, according to the electoral calendar, the window for registration closes.  These new voters are all youth born between September 12th and March 11th, 1994 and will be turning 18 before the March 11th, 2012 elections.

This is an even larger challenge for the government institutions because the Legislative Assembly has yet to approve the electoral budget.  The funds would allow the TSE, the CNR and the different political parties to campaign for voter registration and trainings about the new electoral reforms.  The Assembly only passed the ballot reforms two weeks ago, and they are still negotiating reforms for Independent Candidates.

This morning, Voices on the Border attended a meeting between civil society organizations and representatives from the TSE and CNR.  The President of the TSE, Eugenio Chicas, said it’s too late now for them to effectively reach out to new voters, since these campaigns take at least 3 months to carry out.  Instead, the strategy is to rely on Churches and Non Governmental Organizations to help inform Salvadoran youth.  This Saturday the TSE and CNR will also be tabling at a National Youth Convention in San Salvador.