Supreme Electoral Tribunal Vindicates FMLN in Battle with San Salvador Mayor over Campaign Signs

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Municipal workers in San Salvador remove political party announcements for the upcoming 2018 legislative and municipal elections. Photo: Contrapunto

January 3rd was the official start of campaign season for this year’s legislative and municipal elections to be held on March 4, 2018. Political parties are wasting no time promoting their candidates with caravans and colorful demonstrations; the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) continued its problematic tradition of opening their campaign in Izalco to celebrate the massacre of 1932 which to them symbolizes the ¨defeat of communism.¨

The mayor of San Salvador, independent presidential hopeful Nayib Bukele, used the start of campaign season to promote his own self-serving agenda, ordering municipal workers in the capital city of San Salvador to remove all campaign propaganda, including posters for candidates that are typically posted up on lamp posts. Bukele argued that political parties had not gone through the procedures established by the municipality that would allow them to accede to permits for posting their propaganda.

Representatives of the governing leftist party Farabundo Martí Liberation Front (FMLN) quickly presented a complaint to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), El Salvador’s pluralist elections authority. On January 8th the TSE upheld the right of political parties to put up signs supporting their candidates, issuing a statement to warn municipalities, political parties and citizens in general that removing or otherwise tampering with electoral propaganda throughout the territories is not permitted.  The TSE cited Article 233 of the electoral code, which states, “Any deliberate or unmotivated hindering of the freedom of assembly or political propaganda referred to in Chapter II, Section VII of this code, must be immediately denounced to the tribunal”.

The tribunal further clarified that the electoral code only prohibits ¨paint and paste¨ propaganda, which is the practice of painting or gluing the image of political party flags on public or private property or trees. These are specifically prohibited in the electoral code because of the costs municipalities must take on to cover up and remove such material.

Bukele has been traveling throughout the country and abroad to promote his new political movement ¨New Ideas¨ in the hopes of building a political party that can back his candidacy for the 2019 presidential elections. Responding to the rebuke from the TSE, Bukele issued a statement trashing the electoral authority in a manner that has become part of his “anti-establishment” gimmick, saying “Political parties that control the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of El Salvador, obligate us, through this resolution, to permit those same political parties to fill with propaganda electrical light posts´ and other public spaces in the city. There is nothing left to do but to allow them to make a mess of the capital…”

But the mayor’s attempt to undermine political parties, in particular the FMLN, is also part of his own premeditated presidential campaign, which hinges on the narrative that political parties are at the root of corruption, and not for example the neoliberal capitalist system that enables the redirecting of public funds into the hands of a wealthy minority. Last October, following a series of aggressive and derogatory comments issued by Bukele towards a female FMLN city council member, Xochilt Marchelli, an ethics tribunal voted to expel the mayor from FMLN ranks. This decision opened the door for Bukele to pursue an independent political project, but not before he fired 40 elected FMLN municipal officials. Just this week the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court also ordered the temporary reinstatement of Xochilt Marchelli, who sued Bukele in court for unlawful termination.

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