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

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

Last Minute Threats from the U.S.?

Compared to the 2004 presidential elections in El Salvador –marked by threats of economic and political repercussions from the U.S. if the FMLN candidate were to win– the U.S. government and its representatives had remained refreshingly uninvolved during this election cycle. That is until recent remarks from some members of congress calling the FMLN pro-terrorist and renewing threats of revoking Temporary Protected Status and cutting off the flow of remittances to El Salvador. Click here for full article.

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

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.

Advocacy, Elections 2009

Pre-Election Advocacy in the Lower Lempa

Yesterday the Diario Co-Latino highlighted the United Communities’ initiative to organize the communities affected by flooding and advocate for government action.  The president of United Communities, José Santos Guevara is quoted denouncing the governminent’s claims that they have completed the levees along the Lempa River. The levees  remain incomplete and the corresponding entities have yet to begin repairs of areas damaged by last October’s flooding.  (See post from October 2008)


The article comes on the heels of a 5-day march to San Salvador organized by the communities of El Salvador’s four river basins – all of whom are affected by flooding year after year .  Community representatives will present their demands at the Presidential Palace on Friday February 27th.

To see the article in Spanish click here.

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

Election Update: PDC and PCN Candidates Withdraw from Presidential Race

The billboard shows Funes and the FMLN flag.
The billboard shows the FMLN's Funes with it's campaign slogan "A secure change."
ARENA's presidential candidate is shown here with the party's slogan, "Vote with wisdom."
ARENA's presidential candidate Rodrigo Avila is shown here with the party's slogan, "Vote with wisdom."

Feb 6, 2009

This week the field of candidates in the race for president was reduce by half. Only the FLMN with candidate Mauricio Funes of the and ARENA with Roberto Avila were left on the ballot when the candidates from the Cristian Democrat (PDC) and the National Conciliation (PCN) parties withdrew or were withdrawn from the race. (Note: check back soon for brief descriptions of each party.)

The PDC candidate Carlos Rivas Zamora, formerly a mayor with the FMLN, voluntarily withdrew from the race on Wednesday (Feb 4 2009). The withdrawl of the PCN candidate Tomas Chevez, an evangelical minister, was more controversial. Earlier, the PCN party leadership –which in Salvadoran politcs has much more power than in the US party system– ordered Chevez to withdraw from the race, but Chevez refused. In response, the PCN leadership voted to expel Chevez from the party, and on Thursday (Feb 5 2009) the leaders petitioned the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) to annul his candidacy, which they did in a 3-2 vote.

The TSE Magistrates voting in favor of the annulment cited Article 85 of the Constitution, which states that candidates may only seek the presidency with the support of a party. The Magistrates voting against the annulment pointed out that the PCN leadership violated its own bylaws by expelling Chevez without calling for a party-wide vote on the matter.

The PDC, PCN, and ARENA represent the contemporary political right in El Salvador. While the FMLN is the single party with largest number of representatives in Legislative Assembly, the right-wing voting bloc has the majority. With their candidate out of the race, the PCN leadership has announced its endorsement of the ARENA candidate, while PDC leaders have not announced an endorsement.

The withdrawl of these two candidates from the race is expected to unify the right-wing vote and give ARENA a boost, although it is unclear how much. It is predicted that ARENA will gain most of the votes that would have gone to Chevez, although there may be a backlash against the PCN leadership from Chevez loyalists. Already three PCN mayors have defied the party line and endorsed Funes. It is expected that the PDCs base will split, and may lean more towards the FMLN.

There have been allegations that the withdrawl of these candidates from the race was a negotiated agreement between the party leaders of PDC, PCN, and ARENA in return for favors or posts in a future ARENA government. These charges are denied by the parties.

In the five weeks remaining before the election, the FMLN and ARENA are left to court the allegiance of three main groups: voters who had supported Chevez or Rivas Zamora (in El Salvador they are called “floating voters”), the voters who have remained undecided, as well mayors from the PCN and PDC which may help sway voters in the first two groups. The FMLN‘s Funes has remained in the lead in most polls, but the withdrawl of PDC and PCN candidates is sure to tighten the race.