El Salvador's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE for its initials in Spanish), opened the 2009 election process this week. The TSE officially set the dates of January 18, 2009 for elections of mayors and deputies to the National Assembly, and March 15, 2009 for the presidential election. Candidates for president can register between now and January 13, 2009. The TSE announced there would be no reforms in El Salvador's electoral system between now and the elections.
The TSE has been criticized by the FMLN for opening the election cycle without taking into account the outcome of the 2007 census. The FMLN believes the census will require reallocating deputies to the National Assembly with more deputies being allocated to the urban areas of San Salvador where the FMLN has greater strength.
Another criticism of the TSE has been a change to allow vote tally sheets to be submitted without a seal and signature from the local election officials. The FMLN introduced legislation to repeal this change in the election procedures, but the measure was defeated by the conservative coalition in the National Assembly led by ARENA. The elimination of these requirements has led observers to worry about the possibility of fraud in the upcoming elections.
Mauricio Funes officially joined the FMLN. The party's presidential candidate is now one of its militants and an official part of its leadership. Shortly after making his membership in the FMLN official, Funes and his running mate Salvador Sanchez Ceren registered their candidacy with the TSE for the March 2009 elections.
The PCN, a small right wing party frequently aligned with ARENA, has announced that it will advance José Tomas Chévez as its presidential candidate in the 2009 elections. Chévez is a pastor at the enormous evangelical Elim church in El Salvador, but largely unknown outside of church circles.
Rodrigo Avila, presidential candidate for the conservative ARENA party, still has not selected a running mate for vice president. The current speculation continues to focus on Arturo Zablah, and the current vice president Ana Wilma de Escobar.