March 1 elections -- things to watch for
Here are a list of some of the questions I'll be watching as El Salvador goes into national elections on Sunday to select mayors, and deputies to the National Assembly and Central American Parliament:
- How challenging is this first election to allow "cross voting" where voters can choose legislators from multiple parties? Two things to watch for: delays in counting the ballots and an increased number of "impugned ballots" where the ballot is void because a citizen voted incorrectly.
- Does the FMLN win back the cities surrounding San Salvador such as Apopa, Ilopango and Soyapango that it lost in the 2012 elections?
- Does the trash crisis in the streets of Mejicanos lead to a replacement of the City's ARENA mayor?
- How does the percentage vote for Nayib Bukele as mayor for San Salvador under the FMLN banner, compare to the percentage of votes for deputies in the National Assembly which the FMLN receives? This will be an indication of just how much of Bukele's support came from his charismatic, youthful candidacy rather than a base of FMLN support in the capital city. My sense is that Bukele will become the FMLN mayor of a city which increasingly votes for ARENA.
- Does the FMLN's strategy work to urge people to vote "por bandera" -- a straight party vote -- or does it backfire? For the most part, FMLN candidates for the National Assembly did not have individual campaign posters urging voters to select them. In contrast, the country was covered with posters of individual ARENA and GANA candidates with a big "X" over their faces -- the manner in which someone votes for an individual candidate.
- Does the FMLN retain the mayor's office in Santa Tecla formerly held by the popular Oscar Ortiz who is now vice president? ARENA has put up Roberto D'Aubuisson, Jr. as its candidate.
- Is there an election eve gang-related surprise? On the weekend of the March 2012 elections, murders suddenly dropped by more than 50% and certain top gang leaders were transferred to lesser security prisons. It was the start of the so-called "tregua" or truce declared by El Salvador's major gangs which led to a dramatic drop in homicides over two years. Within the last few weeks before this election, those gang leaders have been transferred by Salvadoran authorities back to maximum security prison.