Special Report: Opposition Obstructs Electoral Results
Ten days after Salvadoran voters cast ballots for mayors and representatives to the National Legislative Assembly and the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), in a voting process that international observers characterized as calm and normal, right wing opposition parties continue to obstruct the vote count while simultaneously trying to cast doubt on the credibility of the pending results.
On Sunday, March 1, following the close of voting centers at 5 PM, poll workers performed a manual ballot count process into the early hours of Monday morning. A complex and unwieldy system imposed by controversial Supreme Court rulings issued in the weeks before Election Day made for a grueling process.
Also on Election Night, the company hired to process and upload the preliminary results as they were transmitted to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) experienced technical failures. After attempting to resolve the problems, the TSE soon decided to abandon the effort to share preliminary results and focus instead on the official final count, which determines the legal results of the elections.
Last week, TSE President Olivo presented accusations of a deliberate sabotage to the Attorney General’s Office, with media speculation pointing to René Torres, the head of the TSE’s IT department and a known member of the right-wing opposition Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party.
The final count process, in which hundreds of representatives of the competing political parties and government officials review the results of the manual ballot count from each of the country’s 10,621 voting tables, was scheduled to commence on Tuesday, March 3rd, and last about 10 days. But the right-wing opposition delayed the count’s start for two days and continues to obstruct the process by frequently abandoning the count and inciting conflict, even violence. Nevertheless, the count process is slowly moving forward, with most of the PARLACEN results processed and review of the Legislative Assembly figures beginning.
In the absence of official results, the ARENA party and its allies in the conservative mass media have taken advantage of the uncertainty to attack the TSE. Much like they did following their loss in the 2014 presidential elections, ARENA has convened small protests against TSE president Julio Olivo, comprised of an elite rarely seen in the streets of San Salvador, the scale of which has been scandalously overstated in the media. The opposition party is also once again leading calls for a vote-by-vote recount, which the Electoral Code specifies can only be implemented once the results are tabulated and it is determined that the number of contested ballots would actually alter the outcome.
As they delay the process and try to cast doubt on the nation’s democratic institutions, ARENA is also projecting its own inflated electoral outcomes in the media, potentially positioning itself to question official figures that may belie their claims: “ARENA needs to justify that they didn’t win the [number of] legislators they wanted, and they blame the referee,” said Legislative Assembly President Sigfrido Reyes.
Despite the opposition’s assertions, El Salvador’s electoral process has been broadly applauded for its transparency; indeed, international elections observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) are on site, and the final count is livestreaming online for all to see. “We have been able to organize the most complex election in history,” said Olivo, calling on all parties to maintain an attitude of respect and tolerance towards the final count process.