Elections 2009

Polls opening to Rain

The first report we’re getting out of El Salvador this morning is that its raining! If you are at all familiar with weather patterns in El Salvador you know that we are in the middle of the DRY season, and not expecting rain for another two months or so.

Rain in March is rare but seems to be happening with greater frequency in recent years. Many Salvadorans believe that March rains are the result of global warming.  Some who are more superstitious may be reading a little more into today’s rain and taking it as an ominous sign that their candidate and party are doomed at the polls. We’re not experts on global warming, nor are we superstitious, so we’ll not read to much into it.lluviaii

The front page of the Newspapers today report that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE, the entity responsible for organizing and executing the elections) is ready.  Election officials expect the highest voter turn out in the nation’s history. Experts expect an estimated 67-70% of the  4.3 million registered voters will to turnout to the polls and vote today. No one is expecting the rain to keep people at home.

We’ll be posting updates throughout the day and into the evening.  As I make this post, the first votes in El Salvador’s 2009 Presidential Elections have been cast.  Stay tuned!

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

Who Will Pay for the Financial Crisis?

Interview with Dagoberto Gutierrez

One of ARENA’s campaign strategies has been to emphasize its good political and economic relationship with the United States, while painting Mauricio Funes as the puppet of a radical communist FMLN whose goal is to implement a Chavez-style economy in El Salvador. When our delegation met with Dagoberto Gutierrez, one of the signers of the 1992 Peace Accords and a political analyst at the Universidad Luterano (Lutheran University), he offered a very different view of the nation’s two largest parties.

Gutierrez described the FMLN as drifting towards the center in order to court voters, and in the process giving up several of the more radical planks of its platform. According to Gutierrez, neither candidate would threaten El Salvador’s relationship with the US, or challenge the nation’s oligarchy in any significant way.

However, Gutierrez stressed that this election is nevertheless very important. He believes the difference between the parties is in how the financial crisis will be handled. He says “if ARENA wins, the poor will be the ones to pay for the crisis. But if the FMLN wins, then there is a chance that the poor won’t be the ones [to pay for the crisis.]”

dagoberto1

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

News Highlights

News Highlights

FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes has made repeated denouncements against signs that the ruling ARENA party plans to commit fraud in the March 2009 elections. He accused ARENA of painting a picture of a close race, mainly by pressuring media outlets to produce false polling figures. The recent poll published and executed by La Prensa Grafica only put 2.8% between Funes and the ARENA candidate Rodrigo Ávila. This comes on the heels of two formal surveys by UTEC and IUDOP, executed by local universities, which put Funes ahead by 15%. Opponents say the accusations are no evidence of fraud and that the FMLN is merely nervous about Ávila’s gains in the polls. One of the two FMLN magistrates on the electoral court (the other three are ARENA) expressed concern over the ‘close race’ scenario, which could lead to the court’s intervention in the March elections. Legal reforms last November allowed for a simple majority in the Electoral court, making way for an ARENA victory if such a scenario were to occur. Combined with an exaggerated mudslinging campaign against Funes that is financed by right wing Venezuelans; many Salvadorans are increasingly worried about what lengths El Salvador’s ruling elite are preparing to take to avoid a transfer of power.

For an article in Spanish click here

Last week El Salvador hosted the Ibero-American Conference to address Latin America, Portugal and Spain’s policies toward youth and development. The financial crisis soon took priority, and the majority of state leaders appealed for demonstrative change and expressed harsh criticism of failing neo-liberal policies. Evo Morales called for a move toward socialism, exhorting fellow leaders against desperate attempts to save crumbling financial institutions. Presidents Saca (ES), Calderon (MX), and Uribe (CO) defended their countries aggressive neo-liberal policies, isolating themselves in an otherwise progressive dialog. Amusingly enough, in the opening address El Salvador’s president Tony Saca quoted Che Guevara’s ‘seamos realistas, pidamos lo imposible’ (be realistic, ask the impossible) in addressing the theme of poverty among youth. As mentioned in the post below, various agreements were signed in respect of the theme, yet the voices of Salvadoran youth were not represented. Parallel conferences and concentrations of youth from around Latin America took place to express their dissent.