TSE president's closing remarks on the electoral process
On March 25 at the ceremony where Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Óscar Ortiz received their credentials as president and vice president, respectively, the President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Eugenio Chicas, gave an inspiring speech about how much was accomplished in terms of consolidating the country's democratic institutions during this election and about the need to continue perfecting the electoral process and moving towards participative, not just representative, democracy. Below is an un-official English translation of his speech. Click here to read the original Spanish-language version.
Democracy is not only expressed when we go to vote, or when the difference between the winner and loser is wide. On the contrary, it is in the face of a close result when our true democratic conviction blossoms, and the strength of the institutions, that since the Peace Accords have required so much from us to construct, is put to the test. And in these elections that we just concluded, the State’s democratic institutions have been under strain, taken to the limit, even to the edge of the abyss that we returned from 24 years ago; and, in spite of this, we have come out stronger. The coordination and the effort put forth by practically all State institutions during these elections have borne fruit in a transparent, legal and, above all, legitimate process.
We have spoken on multiple occasions about transparency, but it is worth highlighting it today. The presence of the political parties during all phases of the process, from the close of the Electoral Registry to the consultations about voting districts and apparent errors, the electoral organization process, and culminating in the electoral results’ transmission has been a plain guarantee of transparency and respect of the right to monitor and audit [the electoral process]. Furthermore, their participation in every one of the temporary electoral bodies and the ability to name representatives to monitor and watch during the most delicate moments of the process, are also reliable proof of transparency. National and international observers have witnessed these measures being carried out. It shouldn’t be forgotten that the composition of our institution [the Supreme Electoral Tribunal] guarantees that the organization of the elections is in the hands of the very political parties who regulate themselves, assuring that everything is done according to the law. Finally, making public every single one of the official vote count records from every voting table, so any citizen can see its contents and compare it to what the system counted, now seems normal to us. But don’t forget that this did not exist a mere five years ago. And making them public is not only a result of the current technological capacity, but of the true commitment to make the elections transparent and make the preliminary count accessible to the whole population. Many of the international observers that visited us during the two elections this year highlighted this procedure as one of the fundamental pillars of transparency, and now El Salvador is an example for electoral processes in Latin America.
With respect to legality, today we were able to carry out electoral justice, thanks to the new regulations approved by the Legislative Assembly. More than 106 sanctioning proceedings were presented to the TSE, in addition to 13 annulments and 16 recusals. We’re talking about cases against inappropriate electoral publicity due to the use of national symbols as well as TV ads that violated the no-campaigning period, including the penalization of individuals and functionaries. Some may not share the legal criteria applied by us, but we have the satisfaction of having acted in concordance with the law, with rulings that were motivated by and in fair proportion to the infraction committed. And just as the law mandates, but also in an effort to make public our electoral thinking, all of the rulings were uploaded to the institution’s web page, and we are working on compiling all of them for publication, so they can be analyzed by academic centers, universities, and electoral organizations. In that regard, after putting the new regulations into practice as an institution, we plan to soon present a new proposal to the honorable Legislative Assembly that will include findings and observations that will permit the improvement and perfection of the regulatory mechanisms contained in this new campaign regulation.
What gives this electoral process legitimacy? Is it the speech (or recognition) by the election’s losing party? Or is it the sovereign voice that expresses itself through the ballot boxes? There is no doubt that the voting population is the great “legitimator” of this process. It was the 3,016,958 citizens that exercised their suffrage who give legitimacy in a clear and transparent fashion to the result. And it must be said, the winning candidate, Professor Salvador Sánchez Cerén, along with Mr. Óscar Ortiz, received more votes than any other presidential ticket in our history: 1,495,815 votes nationwide!
A presidential ticket has never achieved such a popular endorsement!
Today, the 2014 electoral process concludes. But to get to this moment we have had to negotiate diverse barriers and overcome challenges that society itself put forth.
A few years ago, the residential voting system was just a pilot program that included seven small municipalities. Now, the whole country is organized in districts and enjoys this method of voting that allows people to exercise their suffrage closer to their homes. I must thank the unconditional support from the president, Mauricio Funes, to make this project, desired for decades, a reality.
There is still much to be done, among other things creating a permanent system for reviewing and updating the electoral map and the layout of the [electoral] districts. This will permit the disappearance of those pockets, or generic voting centers where those voters with inexact addresses were assigned. To do that, my friends and legislators, right now I call on all of your support to strengthen the TSE in this area, giving it a yearly budget that permits this permanent labor to be carried out.
I have said it one and a thousand times: Residential Voting brings the ballot boxes closer to voters. But it is also true that this closeness, just as the law mandates that the members of the voting tables and Municipal Electoral Boards be from the municipality they are working in, has obligated the parties to look for the sympathizers necessary in every voting district to represent them in these electoral bodies. In this sense, we should not delay any further a reform that permits the “citizen-ization” of the temporary electoral bodies. The parties, of course, will continue with their right to oversee their functioning, which will make this constitutionally-established work more efficient and effective. But it is clear that “citizen-ization” will be another step forward on the path to better involving society in elections.
This past election brought with it for the first time the participation of Salvadorans residing outside of the country. It was thanks once again to the initiative of President Funes, and the necessary legislative approval by the Assembly, that we could bring this method of voting to diverse countries around the world. A little more than 2,700 citizens were able to vote. There’s no doubt that the levels of participation should grow, especially considering that millions of our countrymen reside outside of the country. In this sense, the institution should evaluate the method of registering absentee voters, or even new forms of voting, in order to substantially amplify the turnout of voters residing outside the country, taking into account the characteristics of our diaspora.
Today, we culminate a process that began in 2009, when we as a collegiate institution assumed the work given to us of organizing the 2012 and 2014 elections and the planning of the 2015 elections. Few of us imagined that it would fall to us to face one of the most profound electoral reforms to our system at the end of 2010. We are referring to the opening of the legislative candidates lists, allowing for preferential voting, and the novel appearance of independent candidates for legislative seats.
All of us present know that the path was not easy, and we know very well the arguments in favor and against [the reform] that in that moment resulted in said reform. It corresponded to us to clearly apply the rules that defined the assignment of legislative seats just three months before the elections. Regardless, the elections were agile and transparent, and the population for the first time could vote for their preferred candidates. In fact, this election allowed us to tear down some existing myths, for example that women wouldn’t be elected with preferential voting, when in reality what we saw was that it was precisely women who got the highest number of electoral preferences. I will take advantage of this opportunity to put on the table the topic of electoral districting. This will not only strengthen the relationship between the representative and their constituency, but will help to improve accountability.
In the near future, the next collegiate body [TSE] should execute, along with preferential voting for national legislators and those in the Central American Parliament, the first municipal election with pluralist city councils, in other words, those in which more than one political party will have a presence. This shouldn’t be more than a stepping-stone to authentic proportional councils, whose existence is a reality in all of Latin America and which guarantee a fairer distribution of municipal posts.
Returning to the institutional sphere, in this TSE administration we transferred the offices of the Office of Electoral Organization (DOE), where the preparation of the electoral materials takes place, to a building of our own, modern and with a better layout, at Kilometer 12 of the highway to the Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez International Airport. This was possible thanks to the support of the honorable Legislative Assembly and the Treasury.
With the implementation of the Access to Public Information Law, we were one of the first institutions to put an Office for Access to Public Information to work. We created a [digital] transparency portal where the TSE’s official documents, the pay slips of all the functionaries that work at the institution, a list of positions and salaries and much more useful information is located. To date all of our rulings, once any kind of proceeding was ruled upon, are also located online.
Today, as we culminate this period, I want to take a moment to greet every single worker at the TSE, some of whom are present, who gave their all from the beginning to the end, sacrificing time, family and rest to bring this electoral process to a happy ending. I also extend greetings to the TSE workers union (STRATSE), which fought for just labor demands without ever putting the work that the country had entrusted in them at risk.
Today, we hand over the documents that accredit Professor Salvador Sánchez Cerén and Mr. Óscar Samuel Ortiz Ascencio as president and vice president of the Republic for the 2014 to 2019 term. From our electoral sphere, I want to call on you to accompany the electoral reforms that increase citizen participation. The moment has come to put the serious and cool-headed discussion of methods for citizen consultation on the table: I am referring to plebiscites and referendums. We have achieved electoral maturity. Epithets like “fledgling democracy” and “institutional fragility” are in the past. We have shown that our country is prepared to respect electoral results and to air our differences in the spaces that the law itself provides for us. For that reason, moving from representative to participative democracy should no longer be a taboo. The great decisions that this country must make should not only be known by the population but discussed by it, and decided alongside it.
Friends, as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, we are thankful for the support received during all these years by all the national and international institutions that did their part to guarantee democratic and trustworthy processes. We are sure that we are leaving behind the foundations of a more modern, transparent institution with a clear capacity to confront whatever electoral reform is to come.
The only other thing I wish to do is greet the winning presidential ticket. To you, Professor Sánchez Cerén, and to you, Mr. Ortiz Ascencio, I wish you great success in your mandate. In the name of this Collegiate Organism [the TSE], I congratulate you for your legal, legitimate and transparent triumph achieved at the ballot boxes.
Eugenio Chicas Martínez Magistrate and President Supreme Electoral Tribunal El Salvador March 25, 2014