CISPES Electoral update: Tensions as Municipal and Legislative Campaigns Close in El Salvador

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(Check out frequent updates about the January 18 elections!all day long at http://cispes.org/09electionsblog/ )

Thursday, January 14, marked the end of the campaigns for legislativeand municipal offices in ElSalvador.  The Electoral Code mandatesthat all political parties cease their campaign activities three days beforeSalvadorans cast their votes to elect the countrys 262 mayors and 84legislative deputies. Election Day is this Sunday, January 18.

The capital city of SanSalvador, site of a highly contested mayoral race, hasbeen the scene of much political violence in this electoral period. On January12, ARENA party activists threw rocks at SanSalvador mayor Violeta Menjivar and members of hercontingent during a campaign stop along Alameda Roosevelt, one of the citysmain streets. In the midst of the resulting skirmish, Menjivars campaignprocession came under gunfire. The attack resulted in four people beinghospitalized.

 

After the incident, Menjivar, who is campaigning for a second term as executiveof El Salvadorslargest city, called for a stop to the political violence and askedinternational observers to condemn the attack. These people are armed and theyare [ARENA candidate Norman] Quijanos activists, Menjivar stated. Menjivars campaign has submitted an official complaint to the AttorneyGenerals office and is demanding a full investigation of the incident.

Hondurancitizens found in voter registry in San Isidro Cabañas

OnJanuary 12, the mayoral candidates of four parties in the municipality of San IsidroCabañas presented a formal, joint complaint tothe TSE after discovering Honduran citizens listed in the towns voter rolls.The candidates for the FMLN, PDC, PCN, and CD parties met with TSErepresentatives to present their evidence, and have also taken their case tointernational observers from the Organization of American States.

Thecandidates suspect current San Isidro Cabañas Mayor José Ignacio Bautista ofenabling Hondurans to illegally gain access to the electoral registry. TSEPresident Araujo responded to the complaint by stating that the four candidatesshould not abuse their freedom of speech by making such accusations.

Two daysearlier, on Saturday, January 10, The National Civilian Police arrested aNicaraguan citizen in San Salvadorwhile he was distributing a bulletin entitled "La Prensa Evangélica,"which was crafted to urge Salvadoran readers not to vote for the FMLN.

FranciscoSerrano, an ARENA supporter who is pastor of the EvangelicalMethodist Churchin San Salvadorhas been accused of hiring the man. Such actions would be a violation ofArticle 292 of El Salvadors Electoral Code, which states: "Immigrants arenot allowed to participate directly or indirectly in political activity.

NationalDemocratic Institute to assist with quick count of election results

 

El Salvadors2009 elections have awakened the interest of the international community, asthe leftist FMLN party has the potential to win a greater number ofmunicipalities and legislative seats on January 18, and is poised to win thepresidency for the first time on March 15.  Among other internationalorganizations already in the country, the U.S. government-affiliated NationalDemocratic Institute (NDI) is working along with the Public Opinion Instituteof the University of Central America (IUDOP) to observe this electoral process.

 

In December, El Salvadors Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) signed anagreement with IUDOP, which will observe some 2,000 voting tables around thecountry on Election Day and carry out a quick count that will providepreliminary election results. According to LaPrensa Grafica, the quick count will be carried out with thetechnical cooperation of the NDI. After the polls close, IUDOP observers, whoare students and employees of the UCA, will monitor the vote count at the 2,000polling tables, which have been selected as a representative sample ofnationwide voting. The results from these 2,000 voting sites will be compiledand released publically soon after the polls close. 

 

This is the first time that El Salvador will utilize a quickcount system. The TSE has implemented the initiative as a means of providing anaccurate estimation of election results before the official results areavailable, raising concerns about the Tribunals ability to produce its ownofficial results in a timely manner. Similar programs were used in recentelections in Guatemala and Nicaragua,also with assistance from the NDI.

Despite increased use of the quick count program in Central America,the NDIs parent organization, the National Endowment for Democracy, has beenaccused of attempts to destabilize democratically elected governments in othercountries in recent years, including Venezuelaand Bolivia.

 

Meanwhile, the TSE has carried out three preliminary tests of itssystem for transmitting some 10,000 official vote count documents via fax fromthe voting centers to the institutions election headquarters. All three testswere marred by serious delays and other technical problems, raising doubtsabout the TSEs ability to produce official election results to the public in atimely manner. According to Walter Araujo, President of the TSE andrepresentative of the right wing ARENA party, the problems with thetransmission are technical issues that can be resolved.

 

However, many Salvadorans fear that lengthy delays in releasingofficial results, accompanied by the TSEs demonstrated lack of transparency,could be a sign of behind the scenes fraud. These fears are amplified by theexperience of the 2006 mayoral race in San Salvador, which ended with FMLNcandidate Violeta Menjívar winning by only 44 votes after three days ofrecounts and political maneuvering.

 

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Dont forget to check out CISPESselections day blog: www.cispes.org/09electionsblog

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