Election News Update

My friends at the SHARE Foundation published this El Salvador Elections Update, and graciously agreed to let me republish it here.


Campaigning "Officially" Starts for the 2009 Salvadoran Elections

The official "campaign" period started November 14, 2008 for the Presidential election and on November 17, 2008 for the Legislative Assembly elections. The Salvadoran Constitution provides that presidential election campaigns should last only four months, and parliamentary election campaigns should last only two months, while municipal campaigns should last only 30 days. According to political analyst Napoleón Campos, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has permitted "proselytism" by political parties for the past two years, which constitutes a violation of the Salvadoran Electoral Code. The two principal political parties initiated their campaigns a year ago, which served as an excuse for the TSE not to exercise its authority over their actions. The TSE only has authority to proceed during the "official" campaign period, or when either party actively "asks for votes."


Attack on ARENA Caravan in Meanguera, Morazán

ARENA presented a complaint before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), seeking a written reprimand and fine for the FMLN. The petition forms part of the complaint against the FMLN, that in ARENA's judgment, committed a violation of political rights of the citizens who have decided to support ARENA, through the attack of an ARENA caravan during Rodrigo Ávila's visit to various municipalities in the Morazán department. The violent acts occurred on November 8, 2008 in Meanguera, Morazán, where a group of people dressed in colors and symbols of the FMLN political party attacked a caravan with stones and sticks. The aggression resulted in damages to vehicles and injuries.

ARENA also denounced the acts of violence before the Human Rights Ombudsman's office. Oscar Luna, the Human Rights Ombudsman, affirmed that his office will not tolerate violent acts of this kind by either political party, and made a call to the FMLN to communicate fully the pact of non-violence signed by the political parties in October. He further called on the TSE to make a pronouncement regarding these types of acts and asked the Attorney General to fully investigate the case in other to find out the identities of the intellectual and material actors of the aggression. The TSE declared the complaint inadmissible because the Tribunal does not have the authority to decide cases dealing with criminal actions; only the Attorney General and the Human Rights Ombudsman's office have legal competence to hear a case about physical injuries.

Mauricio Funes, FMLN presidential candidate, stated that it is of utmost importance to find out who is responsible for the actions that took place in Meanguera and to sanction those responsible. Salvador Sánchez Cerén, FMLN vice-presidential candidate, has stated that the attack is not necessarily associated with the FMLN political party, and suggests that the people who committed the attack were not FMLN members.

FMLN Youth Leader Shot and Killed in Chalchuapa, Santa Ana

On the night of November 10, 2008 at 7:30 pm, David Antonio Péñate, a 21 year-old student and secretary of the FMLN grassroots committee, was shot and killed by unknown actors in the city of Chalchuapa. The victim was standing near a bench in the San Juan neighborhood, only ten meters away from his home, with three other members of the FMLN while selling a weekly publication of the political party. Three unknown persons approached the group, one of whom had his face covered, and without a word exchanged began shooting at David Péñate. The other two people fled on bicycle and stole another bicycle from bystanders who were present purchasing pupusas and newspapers.

According to the investigation of the crime conducted by the legal department of the Archbishop of San Salvador, there is sufficient evidence that the crime was planned with the goal of eliminating community leaders and members of the FMLN political party in the municipality of Chalchuapa, in the Santa Ana department, while at the same time terrorizing members of the party. The execution of the young leader shows political motive due to his prominent work he was doing in the pre-election campaign for legislative, municipal, and the presidential candidates.

This homicide received very little attention from the Salvadoran media. The murder adds to a list of recent political murders that several social organizations are compiling. However, the political motivation behind the murder will likely remain ignored in the official statistics of violence in El Salvador, a country with one of the highest homicide rates in the world.


FMLN Files Complaint Against ARENA Before TSE, Attorney General, and Human Rights Ombudsman with Regard to Fuerza Solidaria's "Dirty Campaign"

The FMLN filed a complaint against ARENA before the TSE for the "dirty campaign" the party is allegedly conducting under the Salvadoran counterpart of the Venezuelan organization, Fuerza Solidaria (Solidarity Strength). The FMLN asked the highest electoral tribunal to exercise its authority and stop the "dirty campaign" during the "actual" campaign period, alleging violations of Articles 227, 228, and 232 of the Electoral Code, which state: electoral propaganda should only be promoted by registered political parties or coalitions; those that slander or defame candidates shall be punished by law; and political parties and coalitions must never use the images, slogans, or photographs of other candidates in their own party's campaign. The complaint is currently being studied, and the TSE has not yet made a final pronouncement. The FMLN also filed complaints with the Attorney General's office and the Human Rights Ombudsman's office.

Ávila's Response to "Dirty Campaign" Ads

Rodrigo Ávila, ARENA presidential candidate, was emphatic in saying that the campaign being promoted by Fuerza Solidaria is not financed nor supported officially by the ARENA political party. "It's true, there are ARENA members in that citizens' movement, but it is in their personal role and I have asked that they lower the volume on these types of things," Ávila stated. He further argued that the campaign sponsored by Fuerza Solidaria is not a "dirty campaign." "A campaign that tells lies is not the same as a campaign that tells truths," he continued, "When one says there is an intimate relationship between South American governments and the opposition party, this is a reality that we all know. There are convincing facts that demonstrate this relationship."

FMLN Condemns ARENA for Using FMLN Party Logo and Images in Another "Dirty Campaign"

Only a week after the FMLN presented a complaint in front of the TSE against ARENA for "dirty campaign" tactics being employed through the ads paid for by Fuerza Solidaria, the FMLN has filed further complaints of "dirty campaign tactics." This new report comes a few days after the official start date of the electoral campaign and in the moments when the levels of confrontation between both major political parties are on the rise.

The FMLN political party asked the Attorney General to proceed with a case against the persons responsible for making and distributing propaganda against their party. Two men were detained on the night of November 10, 2008 by the National Civilian police for hanging up propaganda on lampposts along the Pope John Paul II Avenue and Constitution Boulevard. The propaganda included photographs of FMLN leaders and persons close to the FMLN presidential candidate, Mauricio Funes, who according to the propaganda will make up a supposed "Bolivarian government," or a government that mirrors that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Included in the confiscated material is a receipt issued to the ARENA party for the order of 500 posters entitled "Bolivarian Government."

The FMLN has also filed a complaint with the Attorney General's office against the ARENA party president and the ARENA presidential candidate, Rodrigo Ávila. Moreover, they have accused them of defamation and forgery.


In November, the results of four different public opinion polls were released, with the FMLN leading ARENA in the presidential election in all polls. The margin between the candidates ranged from 2.5 percentage points to 13 percentage points. See the table at the bottom of this e-newsletter for voter preference for the FMLN and ARENA in the four most recent public opinion surveys.

The October and November survey results show a stark contrast between the public opinion polls conducted by universities and foreign pollsters and those conducted by the Salvadoran mainstream media. Polls from the Central American University (UCA), the Technological University (UTEC), and the Channel 12 poll that was conducted by MEBA, a Mexican corporation, show at least a 10 point margin between the candidates; while polls conducted by Diario de Hoy newspaper, the television corporation Telecorporación Salvadoreña, and La Prensa Gráfica newspaper show the FMLN leading the polls by a much smaller margin of 3 percentage points.

FMLN presidential candidate Mauricio Funes, maintained that public opinion polls, such as the one released by LPG Datos, for La Prensa Gráfica newspaper, which reveal a close margin between the two major political party presidential candidates, could form part of a government plan to commit fraud in the 2009 presidential election. The survey Funes refers to, conducted by LPG Datos, resulted in a 2.8 point margin between the candidates, after the margin was measured around 7 points for several months.

ARENA presidential candidate Rodrigo Ávila, and leaders of the Christian Democratic Party and the National Conciliation Party have publicly asked Funes to stop talking about potential fraud in the upcoming elections. Ávila stated, "Here, the only one who is talking about fraud is Funes because whoever does it imagines others do it too." Ávila interprets Funes' concerns about fraud as insecurity regarding the most recent polls and the stagnation of the FMLN campaign for having begun eight months before ARENA's.


Supreme Electoral Tribunal Approves 9,544 Vote Receiving Boards for the 2009 Elections

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) approved 9,544 Vote Receiving Boards (JRVs) to operate for the 2009 elections. The number includes 10 "special" ballot boxes designated to collect the votes of Salvadorans living abroad who have a Unique Identification Document (DUI), which is required to vote. These 10 ballot boxes do not have the backing of the Legislative Assembly, and there has been disagreement among representatives about where the boxes should be located. The 2009 elections have 164 JRVs less than the 2006 elections because reforms to Article 241 of the Electoral Code have changed the number of ballots that each JRV collects to 450. The majority of the JRVs, 2,750, are concentrated in the San Salvador department, while La Libertad department will have 1,045. On Wednesday, December 3, the TSE will make official the names of the persons who will constitute the 9,544 different JRVs throughout the country.

Even though the number of JRVs has decreased, the TSE has increased the number of voting stations. They have projected to set up 461 voting stations in the 14 different departments, which is 63 more than functioned in 2006. On November 28, the TSE will make known the definitive location of each of these voting stations.

Reforms to the Electoral Code

On November 5, 2008, the Legislative Assembly passed, with 61 votes, additional reforms to the Electoral Code. These reforms require the secretary of each Vote Receiving Board (Junta Receptora de Votos or JRV) to sign and stamp the ballot, the show it to the other members of the JRV, then to the electoral observers, and finally to the person who will be casting his or her vote on the ballot. This reform may restore voter confidence, but it does not revert Legislative Decree No. 502; ballots found without stamps and signatures may still be counted as valid. Before ballot lacking a signature and stamp is counted, an investigation of ballot characteristics will take place, including consideration of the type of election, the seal of the Republic of El Salvador printed on the reverse, the correlation between the ballot number and its corresponding JRV. Moreover, and secretary of a JRV who fails to fulfill his or her obligation to stamp and sign the ballot will be fined $114.29. These reforms will be made effective as law after being signed by the president of El Salvador, Antonio Saca, and published in the Diario Oficial, which is the equivalent of the United States Federal Registry.

Reforms to the Electoral Code and process are a source of confusion for voters. The process of reinstating the regulatory instructions regarding the signature and stamp, as well as the electoral reforms imposing fines for secretaries of JRVs who fail to stamp and sign ballots are steps toward securing free and fair elections in El Salvador. However, without overturning Decree No. 502, El Salvador is still vulnerable to electoral fraud.

- Written and researched by Michelle Petrotta and Guadalupe Cortez-Vega

The SHARE Foundation will have an election observer delegation for the March elections. You can get more information about that delegation at this link.