Elections 2009

Elections Re-cap

Final Results

According to the preliminary results from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), with 99.4% of the results processed the president-elect Mauricio Funes (FMLN) has 51.3% and Rodrigo Avila (ARENA) 48.7% of the vote.

Mauricio Funes made his victory speech just after 9pm from the Sheraton Hotel on Sunday night. In his speech he promised to respect the constitution, build a government of national unity, and work with large, medium and small business owners to strengthen what he called the most dynamic economy in Central America. He also declared that his government would work for a “preferential option for the poor.”

Two hours later, Rodrigo Avila conceded defeat, and promised that ARENA would be a constructive opposition.


Their was an air of celebration from FMLN supporters as soon as the polls closed. When the FMLN announced Funes’ victory, many thousands of FMLN supporters converged in a sea of red at a monument in San Salvador, cheering, shouting, and dancing late into the night.
Electoral Process

In a press conference Sunday night, Walter Araujo, President of the TSE, began by thanking and congratulating the people of El Salvador for their participation in Sunday’s elections, and applauded the political parties for the maturity they showed during the peaceful election process.

Observers and NGOs reported some election irregularities, but that these were largely minor in nature. Observer missions from the EU and OAS were impressed by the improvements made by the TSE in the logistical organization of these elections as compared to the elections in January.

Araujo stated that the success of this electoral process is an indication of how far democracy has come in El Salvador. In reference to the implementation of the election process the he called transparent, open, and democratic, Aruajo declared “El Salvador has won, Latin America has won, and the world has won.”

The Road Ahead

While this certainly is an historic victory for the FMLN in El Salvador, Funes will face tremendous challenges.

  • Funes’ margin of victory was only 2.6%. Furthermore, the intense and often defamatory campaigning has exacerbated the political polarization in the country. Inspiring public trust in his administration and lessening political divisions will be one of his greatest challenges.
  • Right-wing alliances hold a simple majority in the Legislative Assembly, but neither the right nor the left hold the two-thirds majority necessary for political appointments and incurring new debt. Working with other political parties will be difficult after such a difficult campaign season, but is absolutely essential for the FMLN and a Funes’ administration.
  • Weak rule of law has plagued El Salvador for years and is rooted in the legal framework and judicial institutions. None of these will be easily or quickly changed.
  • El Salvador’s economy has long been stagnant, and is characterized by staggering inequality. Facing a global economic crisis, finding ways to keep El Salvador’s economy from a severe downturn and distribute wealth more equitably seem overwhelming challenges.
Elections 2009

Polls are Closed!

Observers throughout the country are reporting massive participation in the elections. By 4pm, with an hour until the polls close, a source in Soyapango stated that they had observed a participation of 60%.

Early exit polling has shown Funes up by a significant margin. However, these results are preliminary, and carry a large margin of error. A representative of FESPAD stated that by their estimates the winning candidate needs a margin of victory of at least 90,000 votes to be confident that the outcome was not influenced by fraud.


In addition to the power outage in Apopa for most of the day, electricity went out at 3 voting centers in Soyapango at 4pm. Because the results must be transmitted digitally, these outages have worrisome implications for the processing and announcement of the final results. Any delays to the announcement of victory will likely heighten tensions.

FESPAD (the Foundation for the Application of Law) stated that they are receiving a fewer total number of complaints of logistical problems with the electoral process than in January. However, a representative from FESPAD said that the complaints they are receiving are more serious than in January.

The majority of irregularities reported to FESPAD fall into three categories:

1) Influencing voters with t-shirts, inappropriate campaigning, food, or money

2) Obstruction of voting; for example, a business reportedly did not let its workers vote

3) Large concentrations of people (suspicious), ARENA is claiming that they are people working in ‘logistica’

Thankfully, there are very few reports of violence, and only 3-4 cases of people attempting vote twice.

Now that the polls are closed, all attention turns to counting the votes and reporting them to the TSE center.  Voices staff will be at the TSE center for the rest of the evening, monitoring the process. We will continue to monitor the power outages and report any results as they come in. 

Elections 2009

TSE’s 10 steps to an orderly Election Day

Yesterday, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced 10 steps it is taking to ensure an orderly election day for all. TSE officials have discussed many of these steps over the past months, but decided on some of them at the last minute. (Click here to read more)

Elections 2009

Final Big Rallies a Week Before Elections

Between 180,000 and 250,000 people attended the FMLN’s final rally in San Salvador on Saturday, 8 days before the presidential elections. The former candidates of the National Conciliation Party, who have broken with their party, were in attendance. Speakers talked of promoting political unity, furthering the promises of the 1992 Peace Accords, and inaugurating a new era in the nation’s history. Vice-presidential candidate, Salvador Sanchez-Cerén urged supporters to get to the polls and to vote early.  Presidential candidate Mauricio Funes called on party members to avoid violent confrontations with ARENA supporters in the final days before the election, and urged them to be on the look out for electoral fraud on March 15.

The ARENA party held their final large rally the following day, with 75,000 supporters. It was attended by former presidents Alfredo Cristiani, Armando Calderon Sol, and Francisco Flores; current president Tony Saca; and the Secretary Generals of both the National Conciliation Party (PCN), the Cristian Democratic Party (PDC), and the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR). Speakers at the rally also issued calls for reconciliation and unity. Vice-presidential candidate, Arturo Zablah, described ARENA as ‘defending liberties, generating employment, and believing in God.’ He contrasted this with the economic problems and lack of freedoms of Venezuela, implicitly connecting the opposition party with these policies. In his speech, presidential candidate Rodrigo Avila recognized the progress made by the ARENA governments in the last 20 years, but also acknowledged that significant challenges remained.

According to El Salvador’s electoral code, no political campaigning can occur on election day or the three days prior. The candidates will be making final tours around the country in the days that remain before the formal closure of the campaign period.

Elections 2009

Negotiating Political Power Post-Elections

Some ARENA campaign advertisements portray Mauricio Funes (FMLN) as an extremist, FMLN hardliner or as a puppet of a radical FMLN leadership. In response, the Funes campaign has emphasized his moderate political platform, which some FMLN supporters view as too moderate.

Now, some critics of Funes raise questions regarding his ability to maintain support from the FMLN faction in the Legislative Assembly if he were to win the presidency. They argue that if Funes really does act independently from the FMLN, he could lose their support and with it the ability to govern effectively.

In an interview with Voices, a political analyst at the Central-American University, Álvaro Artiga, acknowledges that this type of scenario is indeed possible, however unlikely.

Artiga explains that Funes has an incentive to do what’s necessary to keep the FMLN’s support in order to implement his policies. Furthermore, no party wins an election to lose the next. The FMLN has a strong incentive do everything possible to make a Funes presidency –what would be the FMLN’s first ever– as successful as possible to prove that FMLN candidates are capable of governing at a national level.

Artiga points out that a fissure within a future Rodrigo Ávila (ARENA) administration is possible as well. Arturo Zablah, currently ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate, began the campaign season as the presidential candidate for a minority party coalition. Before accepting the candidacy for vice-president from ARENA, Zablah harshly criticized past ARENA administrations in his own campaign. If Zablah chose to take up these complaints again and were to break with Ávila or the ARENA leadership, it could pose significant political difficulties for an Ávila administration.

However, this scenario is unlikely as well. The ARENA party must have considered this possibility during the process of selecting a vice-presidential candidate. In addition, Zablah’s inability to muster support for his coalition earlier in the presidential race may make him more dependent on ARENA for political capital.

Artiga concludes that while a fissure between candidates and their party’s leadership is a possible and concerning scenario for either party, there are enormous political pressures to maintain positive relationships.

Elections 2009

New Polls Tell Different Stories

Seven polls regarding the presidential elections were released in the past 8 days, and their findings differ widely. They range from a 3 point lead for Rodrigo Avila (ARENA) to a 20 point lead for Mauricio Funes. One thing is clear is that the race has gotten tighter. See the table below for a summary of the results.

Three polls were released today, Feb 26: one from Universidad Centroamericana’s University Institute on Public Opinion (IUDOP), one by CID – Gallup, and one by Mendoza y Asociados. All showed Funes with a lead, though the size varied. IUDOP showed Funes with a 18-point lead over Avila, winning 49% of respondents. CID-Gallup found Funes with a 6-point lead, and the survey by Mendoza y Asociados gave him a 3-point lead. (Escobar, Ivan and Beatriz Castillo. “Funes aventaja a Ávila en intención de voto: IUDOP” Diario Co Latino. 26 Feb 2009.)

The Salvadoran Opinion Research Center (CIOPS) at the University of Technology of El Salvador (UTEC) released a poll Feb 25. It found that 50.5% of respondents said they would vote for Funes, and 48.9% said they would vote for Avila. However, they warned that Funes lead was within the margin of error, and therefore the results were inconclusive. (Escobar, Iván. “‘Margen de error no permite asegurar ventaja’: dice Zárate” Diario Co Latino. 25 Feb 2009.)

On Feb 24, the research firm Borges y Asociados published a poll in the conservative newspaper Diario de Hoy that gave Avila a 0.9% lead over Funes, with Avila winning the support of 40.9% of respondents, and Funes winning 40.0%. Nearly a fifth remained undecided. There was no mention of the margin of error.

The survey also asked respondents a number of questions regarding their age, sex, level of education, and level of monthly income. Avila faired better than Funes in the groups of voters who are over 50 years old, who have primary education, and who earn less than $200 per month. Funes gained a majority of voters who are between 18-29 years old, are university graduates, and make more than $400/month. (Miranda, Enrique. “Ávila supera a Funes” Diario de Hoy. 24 Feb 2009)

An FMLN-sponsored poll conducted by Vox Latino, an independent Guatemalan organization, gave Funes a 20.1 point lead, only slightly higher than the 19.5% of respondents that said that they could change their mind before the election. (Andrade, Teresa. “Una encuesta interna FMLN les favorece ampliamente.” El Mundo. 24 Feb 2009.)

On Feb 18 Jabes Market Research firm published a poll in which respondents were given a ballot to mark their presidential preferences if the election were today. The study found that 41% of participants chose Avila (ARENA), 38% chose (FMLN), a three point lead for Avila. It is worth noting that 20% of the ballots were left blank; indicating either they were not planning to vote, or were still undecided.

Jabes Market Research also conducted verbal survey which yielded much different results, putting Funes 6 points ahead. Forty-four percent of respondents said they would vote for Funes, 38% said they supported Avila, and 12% (“ARENA adelante en intención de voto” Diario el Mundo. 18 Feb 2009.

Poll Results from Late FebNote: Bold outline indicates a clear lead, while dotted indicates a lead that falls within the assumed margin of error.

Elections 2009

A Flurry of Endorsements

This past week, the political endorsements for the only two remaining presidential candidates have been coming fast and furious.

The National Republican Alliance (ARENA) has succeeded in consolidating support for its ticket from El Salvador’s right-wing political parties. The top leaders of the National Conciliation Party (PCN) had already pledged their support to ARENA’s Rodrigo Avila, and as expected the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) endorsed ARENA as well. The FMLN’s Funes received the official nod from the center-left Party of Democratic Change (CD).

The FMLN and ARENA are also receiving endorsement from former political parties.

This week Funes accepted the endorsement from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), a former party that had split off the FMLN, now turned movement. The secretary general of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR), which must dissolve because it failed to win enough votes in the January elections, has surprisingly endorsed ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate Arturo Zablah. The same is true of the former leaders of the dissolved National Action Party (PAN), composed mostly of ex-members of military patrols. They promised 60,000 votes to ARENA.

Dissension among the ranks

Officials from each party have defied the endorsements made by their party’s leadership to make their own endorsements.

For example, two PDC mayors had already announced their endorsement of Funes before the party announced its endorsement of Avila. More interesting still, there is apparently a faction within the PDC calling themselves Christian Democrats for Change. They have taken out a radio ad featuring a sound bite from Jose Napoleon Duarte –one of the party’s historical icons– which calls the ARENA the party of violence. It should be noted that, Rodolfo Parker, secretary general of the PDC accuses the FMLN of being behind the ad.

There is also a divergence between leadership and the representatives of the FDR. Even though the party’s secretary has endorsed ARENA’s vice-presidential candidate Zablah, three of the party’s leaders and 90% of its base support Funes.

The PCN, also experiencing some dissension, has threatened to sanction members who publicly endorse Funes.

Some officials who’ve been unable to decide between candidates have declared that they will leave their voters free to decide.

And what about those voters?

Along with their pledge of support, party leaders pledge to give the candidates the votes that their party received in the elections on January 18. The vote totals for each party are shown below.

Party:  # of Votes  (% of Votes)

ARENA: 854,166 (38.56%)

FMLN: 943,936 (42.60%)

PCN: 194,751 (08.79%)

PDC: 153,654 (06.94%)

CD: 46,971 (02.12%)

FDR: 22,111 (01.00%)

In his article titled “Nada nuevo (Nothing new)” political analyst Joaquin Samayoa asserts that, as reflected by the fissures within the party hierarchies, the bases will split too. It is likely that the majority of the PCN base will vote for ARENA. However, some angry supporters of Chevez -the PCN’s former presidential candidate who was pushed out by party leadership- may stay away from the polls. The PDC base will also probably mostly vote for Avila, but a significant minority is expected to vote for Funes. Samayoa points out that many CD supporters came to the party because they were unsatisfied with ARENA, but rejected the FMLN’s ideology. He cautions that with the CD’s endorsement of Funes, these members may leave the CD for good.

Samayos  goes on to say “The discussion about offering support from the institution to one of the contending parties or to leave their militants free is idle talk. The Constitution is what grants us voters freedom, not the leaders of a party…The vote is free and secret. That is how we understand it, and that is how we, as citizens, will exercise it.”

Elections 2009

US requests that FMLN not use Obama’s image

Yesterday, the Charge d’ Affairs for the United States Embassy, Robert Blau, requested that the FMLN stop the use of President Barack Obama’s image in their campaign advertisements.

The television ad in question features several images of President Obama, and focuses on drawing comparisons between Obama and the FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes. The advertisement asserts that both Obama and Funes have been falsely accused of connection to terrorism and extremist governments. It goes on to say that both offer a message of hope and change in a time of crisis.

This ad is seen as a part of a strategy by the FMLN to respond to suggestions by the ARENA party that a Funes presidency would endanger El Salvador’s relationship with the United States.

Blau stated that the use of Obama’s image in campaign ads may give the wrong impression that the US endorses a particular candidate. He reaffirmed the pledge of former Ambassador to El Salvador Charles Glazer that the US would not get involved in the nation’s elections, and will respect Salvadorans’ ability to elect their own leader.

Earlier in the campaign season, ARENA also ran a television advertisement congratulating Obama on his victory and displaying an image of Obama and ARENA’s party logos and flag.

Many leftists agree that the Obama has the right to request that his image not be used in the Salvadoran campaign. However, they also point out that Obama’s image was used in a tone of respect and admiration, unlike the use of images of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales in attack ads run by ARENA linking Funes with the South American leaders.

The FMLN has announced that it will re-examine the use of Obama’s image.

Elections 2009

The Question of (Un)Governability

A daunting task faces whoever wins the March 15, 2009 presidential elections in El Salvador, whether it is Mauricio Fune (FMLN) or Rodrigo Avila (ARENA). In recent interviews, politicians, civic leaders, and other intellectuals raise the question of governing a country facing pervasive political polarization, the impending economic crises, and security as serious problems that a new administration will have to overcome.

The largest political parties –the source of and gateway to political power– continue to be a polarizing force (despite a recent poll that hints that voters are becoming more moderate –see A Shift towards the Center? below). Strong rhetoric that demonizes the other party, divisive campaign ads, biased media coverage, and well-publicized confrontations between party supporters have only deepened the polarization.

Recent polls have shown that Funes’s lead has decreased significantly –in some polls his lead is within the margin of error. Close vote totals will likely provoke a challenge from the losing side. This scenario combined with the high level of polarization has the potential to spill over from political realm into the streets. Such challenges and street violence will weaken the new president’s legitimacy and erode his political capital, even within his own party.

Once the election result has been determined, the new president will face enormous political, economic, and security challenges.

The Legislative Assembly is sharply divided. The FMLN is the single party with the largest number of representatives with 35 seats in the 84-seat body. However, the PCN, PDC and ARENA together hold an effective right-wing majority. Either side could make things difficult for an executive branch controlled by the other party.

The global financial crisis poses another significant challenge to the new president. The US is both the largest consumer of Salvadoran exports, demand for which is expected to decrease. In addition, remittances from relatives in the US, which account for 17% of El Salvador’s GDP, are expected to decline. Furthermore, unemployment is rising. In the last few months, 12,000 jobs were lost. The challenge for the new executive is to create new employment opportunities in this context while facing declining state revenues.

El Salvador faces a serious internal security problem, largely related to gang violence, extortion, and drug trafficking. The problem is a complex one, and is closely tied to the question of economic development and political security. Violence and gangs thrive where poverty and economic inequality are prevalent, social welfare institutions are overwhelmed by the need that exists, and security and justice enforcement mechanisms are at best weak and unreliable and at worst oppressive.

It seems that any serious progress on these enormously complex and interrelated problems will require a radical shift in the political culture of the country towards consensus, the strengthening of the rule of law, a greater degree of participation and inclusion of civil society, and the development of stronger, more transparent, more accountable institutions. These are transformations that must begin with this presidency, but will continue for much longer.

Elections 2009

The Historic Opportunity of the Left May be Lost, by Victor Mata Tobar*

Enthusiasm for the leftist movement throughout the Americas is a sign of the times. Tired of restrictive social policies that have worsened the inequities and exclusion, the people of the Americas see hope in the left – perhaps their last in confronting a structural crisis born from a model that advances stagnation instead of investing in society, and in an unconditionally free markets instead of a stronger State to control them. If left to its own devices, the free market is destructive and produces poverty while consolidating wealth. Such a model inevitably leads to crises like the one we are currently experiencing in El Salvador.

The electorates’ turn to the left in the majority of countries in the Americas, including the democrat’s victory in the United States, leaves only a few countries such as El Salvador, with a conservative, right wing government. The people of the Americas believe in the left because their leaders have learned to demonstrate pragmatism and tolerance, with less socialist rhetoric and more liberalism, and have transformed their societies. The left seeks the possible, though they do not discard the ideal as a final goal.

In El Salvador, the left will have, for the first time in the republic’s history, a real possibility of winning the presidency. The candidate is intelligent, honest, and well intentioned. His victory, however, is not a sure thing, as has been the thought for the past four months – at least according to the polls, which, while correct the majority of the time, are not always right. In recent polls, the electorate’s preference for Funes has decreased, and I identify two factors driving the decline: one, the weak policy message of the left, and two, the intelligence demonstrated by the right in the management of their campaign. Though he insists on achieving goals such as jobs and employment, the leftist candidate does not move beyond the abstract promise of change. In the United States, the change slogan produced excellent results for the democrats, in large part because the majority of voters in the U.S. rejected President Bush, and Candidate Obama made concrete promises. In El Salvador, President Saca actually has a high approval rating among Salvadorans, and the leftist-change slogan remains abstract with little impact.

The left’s is not running a negative campaign compared to the right, and in principle this seems a positive. We should not forget, however, the right’s extreme debilities, especially the corruption that has impacted the people and systematically destroyed the environment. In addition, the left’s campaign promises ought to be concrete and attractive, such as promises to build 80,000 homes over the next five years to address the housing deficit, supply potable water to all rural homes, or provide universal health insurance (I offer these only as examples of concrete promises, not actual recommendations for projects or policies). As an independent observer who is sympathetic to the left for its humane and historic plan, I stress that the promises should not be as abstract or general as offering safe change – this is unappealing to the electorate.

Finally, the left ought to cease its internal fighting once and for all, and present a strong front. The right, which can be questioned for its cruelty and greed, is showing great pragmatism and intelligence in order to win the elections. Did the mayoral election in San Salvador not just demonstrate this?

*Victor Mata Tobar practices human rights and environmental law in San Salvador and his native home of Apaneca, Ahuachapan. Over his long career, he has been on faculty at the Colleges of Law, Philosophy, and Journalism at the National University, advised the Salvadoran Ombudsmen for Human Rights, served on the board of numerous non-profit organizations, led law reform movements, and promoted the advancement of civil society. This article first appeared in the Diario Co-Latino on February 3, 2009