San Salvador mayoral race too close to call, concerns about electoral fraud and violence continues


Though the crucial race for mayor of San Salvador remains up in the air Monday morning, the FMLN is poised to make gains in the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly. Celebrations over important FMLN mayoral victories in most of San Salvador's largest suburbs - including Soyapango, Mejicanos, Santa Tecla, and San Martin - have been tempered by a late shift in the voting tallies which may give ARENA the most seats in the Legislative Assembly, with approximately 33 to the FMLN's 32. In fact, with 60% of the vote counted this morning the FMLN had garnered around 3,000 more votes than ARENA on a national level (477, 831 votes ARENA's 475,174 votes) but because of the way El Salvador's voting is set up it seems likely this will not translate into an overall advantage in the Assembly.

Serious concerns have been raised about the level of fraud, vote buying, and other anomalies observed over the course of Election Day, and violence and arrests were rampant around El Salvador on March 12. According to international press agencies, as many as 29 people were injured due to election related violence, while one death was also attributed to political violence. Details about these cases are unclear, but the National Civilian Police (PNC) has confirmed that 14 people have been arrested over the course of the day, some for carrying arms inside voting centers and others for fraud. Some CISPES observers believe the level of fraud and dirty campaigning leading up to and on the day of this election will ultimately prove as blatant and damaging as that of the 2004 Presidential elections, won by ARENA candidate Tony Saca.

Still, celebration continued in San Salvador last night as Violeta Menjivar was introduced as the first ever woman mayor to the cheering throngs of FMLN supporters. Shortly after declaring herself the winner, ARENA candidate Rodrigo Samayoa spoke at a press conference claiming victory, while the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has yet to declare an official winner. The candidates are within .1% of each other with 73% of the votes counted, and a winner may not be revealed when the TSE holds another press conference this afternoon to announce more official results. Indeed, the battle over mayor of San Salvador could stretch on for days and make the reports of international observers a key element of the final result.

Though President Saca has claimed victory for his party, his decision to put his own political capital on the line by overtly campaigning for ARENA will be damaging, as ARENA is far from achieving the majority it sought in these elections. Meanwhile, ARENA's closest ally, the right-wing PCN party, may see its number of seats drop by as much as a third, meaning that the two parties together may not have the 43 votes necessary to pass laws by a simple majority. Perhaps the biggest losers were the center and center-left parties who appear to have won only 2 seats in the Assembly.

CISPES will be making public its observations and denunciations at a press conference tomorrow.

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