Criticisms of ARENA and Salvadoran Electoral Tribunal continue as campaigning closes

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International Women's Day marks the official end of the 2006 electoral campaign in El Salvador, as political parties are no longer allowed to advertise or distribute propaganda in the final days before the legislative and municipal elections of March 12. Still, criticisms of the ruling ARENA party - and in particular President Tony Saca - have amplified in the last week, as US Congressional Representatives, Salvadoran social movement organizations, and the FMLN continue to raise concerns about ARENA campaigning and its role within the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

As international observers were set to begin arriving in El Salvador last Friday, 27 US Representatives sent a letter to President Saca citing concerns about recent elections-related violence, inconsistencies with the TSE, and other problems that threaten the democratic process. The Congressional Dear Colleague letter promoted by CISPES also demanded that international observers be allowed to fully participate in observing the elections, as guaranteed by the 1992 Peace Accords. In the end, all of the delegates participating in the International Observers Mission (MOI) were allowed into the country over the weekend, and on Monday accredited as official observers by the TSE. (to view the letter in Spanish and English, articles in the Salvadoran papers about the letter, and the CISPES press release, click here)

However, new accusations surfaced early this week focusing on the role of President Saca in overtly campaigning for ARENA candidates. A coalition of organizations, including the legal NGO FESPAD, presented a claim before the TSE denouncing Saca's active participation in ARENA's campaign as a violation of the electoral code and specific articles of the constitution. The groups also denounced the use of state funds, vehicles, and security personnel for campaign rallies, which is illegal under TSE regulations. The Salvadoran American National Alliance (SANA) also held a press conference on Tuesday to raise similar concerns and to publicize the US Congressional letter to Saca.

Finally, FMLN communications secretary Sigfrido Reyes spoke at a press conference on Tuesday outlining the possibilities of fraud to be perpetrated by ARENA in the upcoming elections. Reyes pointed to the infamous "dirty campaign" of ARENA against the FMLN in the presidential elections of 2004 and said that "much of what [ARENA] did then to prevent Schafik from winning the presidency is being repeated." In 2004 ARENA's fear campaign focused on threats of deportation of Salvadoran living in the US and the blocking of remittances should the FMLN win; this time, ARENA has used the ridiculous tactic of attempting to link the FMLN to street gangs. Still, Reyes expressed confidence about the FMLN's chances in the elections, and asked the Salvadoran people to come out to the polls in order to "defeat the fear and terror generated by ARENA."

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