2014 Elections

El Salvador’s Constitutional Court Considering Claim Against Presidential Candidate Tony Saca

The Constitutional Court of El Salvador yesterday accepted a claim filed by Ramiro Peña Marín y Wilmer Humberto Marín Sánchez that the presidential candidacy of Tony Saca is unconstitutional.

The Court is considering three claims – 1) Saca, who was President of El Salvador from 2004-2009, isn’t eligible to run again until 2019; 2) he is guilty of fraud during his presidency; and 3) he has shares in corporations that have state contracts, which is a violation of Article 127 of the Constitution.

Tony Saca, who is running as a candidate for the UNIDAD party, is not the defendant in the case; rather it is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that has to prove the constitutionality of their decision to certify his candidacy. The Court has given them 10 business days to submit a brief justifying their certification of the Saca candidacy. After the TSE has submitted its brief, the Court will send the case to the Attorney General’s Office to get their opinion.

The first claim argues that a former President cannot run for another term until he has been out of office for an entire term. Article 152 of the Constitution says, “The following shall not be candidates for the President of the Republic:

1st – He who has filled the Presidency of the Republic for more than six months, consecutive or not, during the period immediately prior to or within the last six months prior to the beginning of the presidential period.

The plaintiffs argue that the former president is ineligible to run again until after the new President takes office in 2014, and he couldn’t begin a second term until 2019.

The second argument is that Tony Saca committed fraud in 2009 when his administration submitted its final report. The plaintiffs argue that there was no way the administration could complete the report appropriately until those who had positions in the administration had finished going through their final audits, which did not happen until 2010.

The third argument the Court is considering is that Tony Saca is ineligible to be President because he holds shares in corporations that have government contracts. Article 152 .7, which refers back to 127 .6, of the Constitution prohibits a President from having government contracts. The plaintiffs argue that his ownership of Grupo Radial Samix, which has government contracts, makes Saca ineligible to run. They also argue that his involvement in the National Telecommunications Administration, which also has government contracts, makes him ineligible. Saca has argued that he transferred interests in these corporations to family members to avoid a conflict with the Constitution, but the plaintiffs argue this was insufficient and just an attempt to circumvent the constitutional requirements. He also argues that the concessions were to corporations, and while he was on the board of those corporations he did not own the concessions.

Tony Saca responded to the claims by saying he is sure the Constitutional Court will resolve the claim in his favor. He also said the claims show that the ARENA party is afraid of his candidacy and that they have had to resort to a dirty campaign. The former president also pointed to polls that show his candidacy will guarantee that no one candidate will win 50% of the vote on election day, forcing a runoff.

There were six other claims of unconstitutionality related to the Presidential Candidates – 4 others against Tony Saca (UNIDAD), one against Norman Quijano (ARENA), and one against Sánchez Cerén (FMLN). The court did not validate these complaints; they only agreed to consider the three against Tony Saca.

El Faro.net points out that if the Court agreed to hear the case, it means that there is a real constitutional issue to debate – this is not just a formality. All five members of the Court signed off on the decision.

Tony Saca is not having a good week in the press. On Tuesday (November 19, 2012) El Faro published an interesting report on Saca’s earnings during his presidency. They found that in 2003, the year before he became president, Saca was worth roughly $600,000 and had an annual income of  $200,000. By 2009 and the end of his Presidency, Saca was worth $10.5 million, more than 16 times what he was worth the year before he was sworn in as President.

If the Constitutional Court decides to annual Saca’s candidacy, it will most likely favor Norman Quijano and the ARENA party. Polls indicate that Saca is splitting the more conservative votes, giving Cerén and the FMLN a boost. The argument is that if Cerén can’t win in the first round, he’ll be able to peel away enough Saca supporters to win in the second and become President.

The last polls from La Prensa Grafica, however, show a close race with the Cerén and the FMLN ahead with only 29.4%. Quijano and the ARENA are close behind with 28.3%, with Saca is a distant third getting only 9.8% of the vote. Approximately 30% of voters remain undecided, which means this race is still far from over.

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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.

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, News Highlights, Politics

PDC and PCN “No Han Muerto”

We recently reported that last Friday, July 1, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal voted to dissolve the PDC and the PCN political parties.  However, as of today, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and National Coalition Party (PCN) have not died.  Both parties are still alive as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) was not able to sign off on its final decision yesterday. It seems as though this now permits PCN and PDC politicians to participate in the municipal elections in March 2012 and they are able to obtain funds from the state for campaigning. For the PCN and the PDC, this failure on the part of the TSE to sign off on the decision 48 hours after having decided on the verdict, has saved these parties from being removed from the ballot.

 

In order to be able to issue the verdict, four of the five magistrates were required to agree, but that was not possible yesterday after having sat down for almost three hours in discussion. As a result, there is some discrepancy as to whether these parties will in fact be able to participate in the elections or not. Eugenio Chicas, a magistrate on the TSE said on July 4 that “the cancellation process has not been consolidated, in other words, there is no clear resolution to the cancellation.” When asked if the PCN and PDC will be able to run in 2012, Chicas said that “these parties are still alive, there is a certain form of life in these parties, but I still cannot give a resolution regarding they eligibility to run in the March 2012 elections”. Even the president of the TSE was unable to clearly state whether or not the parties will obtain funds for their campaigns.

 

 

El Salvador Government, Politics

Supreme Electoral Tribunal Dissolves Two Oldest Political Parties

On Friday, July 1, 2011, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of El Salvador “cancelled” the country’s two oldest political parties, the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) and the National Conciliation Party (PCN). If the ruling stands up to appeal, the two parties will no longer appear on election ballots, having each gained less than the required 3% of the vote in the 2004 elections.

Although the Legislative Assembly passed a decree in 2005 allowing both parties to continue to officially run, in April the Supreme Court declared that decree unconstitutional. In order to register for the ballot, the parties would each have to collect 50,000 signatures of support, rather than the 3,000 that were required by the Legislative Decree.

Both parties have roots in the military right wing. The PDC was the ruling party during the Civil War years of the 1980’s, whereas the PCN had been the political face of the military dictatorships in the two decades prior.

We’ll be reporting on the other TSE electoral reforms for the 2012 municipal elections in the next couple of days… stay tuned!

 

Elections 2009

EU Election Observer Statement

With only a few more hours until the polls close, Luis Barrionuevo, the head of the EU election observation delegation, stated that there have been fewer irregularities in today’s presidential elections than during the local and legislative elections held on January 18, 2009.  The incidences, he states, have been few and isolated.

Despite the positive report, rumors of foreigners trying to vote persist, and police report that several Guatemalans and Nicaraguans have attempted to cast ballots today. Earlier, representatives from the Organization of American States confirmed that they have received complaints of foreigners trying to vote in the eastern region of El Salvador, including Torola in Morazan, and the communities of Cayetuno and Tepitan in San Vicente.

Voices staff is investigating these allegations and will provide more information as it becomes available.

Elections 2009

Election Update, Midday

It’s noon on election day in El Salvador and so far reports from voters, election observers, major new stations, and major newspapers indicate that the presidential elections are largely unfolding smoothly, with some reports of irregularities.

Elections observers from the EU and OAS have applauded the improvement made by the TSE in the logistical organization of the today’s elections as compared to the elections in January. The Human Rights Ombudsman identified one of the most important improvements is the opening of voting centers on time; approximately 90% of voting centers opened at 7am this morning.

There have been a number of irregularities reported. These include

  • ARENA supporters handing out t-shirts at a voting center
  • FMLN and ARENA supporters waving banners outside a voting center, violating the 100m zone around voting centers where campaigning is prohibited
  • One woman arrested on suspicion of being a citizen of Nicaragua
  • Several instances of people being unable to vote due to irregularities on their DUIs, or their DUI photo not matching the photo on the electoral registry
  • A few members of Voting Center Councils dismissed: one because of inebriation, others for having unverifiable identification documents
  • There is an unconfirmed report that a FMLN representative on a Voting Center Council in Cojutepeque was arrested on charges of voting fraud, though it is unclear exactly what the circumstances are

Furthermore, at the voting center set up for Salvadorans living abroad, only 50 had voted by 10:30am. At least two were turned away because the addresses on their DUIs didn’t match their address in the electoral registry.