Towards a second round in El Salvador's presidential elections

Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate of the FMLN, scored a significant victory with a 10 per centage point win over Norman Quijano of ARENA, but it was not enough to secure a victory in the first round of voting.   The final vote percentages were: 

Bandera de MOVIMIENTO UNIDAD Elias Antonio Saca Gonzalez11.44%% de votos de MOVIMIENTO UNIDAD
Sánchez Cerén's 10 point lead represented some 266,000 votes more than Quijano.  Now the candidates from the left and the right will battle in a run-off election on March 9.  It promises to be an ugly 5 weeks of campaigning where one can assume that ARENA wll go very negative, while Sánchez Cerén will be assiduously wooing the supporters of Tony Saca to get just the few percent more which the FMLN needs to retain the presidency.   At this moment, it seems that the odds are stacked heavily against ARENA and Quijano.

Some other observations:

Congratulations to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) which pulled off a very smooth election process.   The votes were counted quickly, with transparency, with a well-functioning website to distribute results.   While the TSE  is often criticized with respect to many of its pronouncements and rulings about the conduct of parties and political campaigns, the actual day of the election functioned very well.  This success included the roll out of residential voting with hundreds of additional polling places close to where people live.

Turnout was down in this election.   Only 53% of the persons eligible to vote cast ballots yesterday.   This was significantly down from the 65% turnout in the 2009 elections which elected Mauricio Funes as the first leftist president in the country.  This seems to reflect the growing disenchantment of  parts of the population with the political process in the country, leading many people to simply stay at home.   Quijano blamed absenteeism today for part of his poor showing.  

Tony Saca's poor showing was primarily the result of not having the political machines and organization of ARENA and the FMLN.   I grew to appreciate the strength of the party apparatus as I watched it at work from 5AM when poll workers arrived until the votes were counted.  The parties mount teams of well-trained election workers, poll watchers, and supervisors who were inside every voting center.   Outside of the centers, tents with wireless computers were set up.   Any voter could approach the party volunteers with his or her identity card and learn the exact spot where he or she should go to vote.   Buses and vans brought people from all around to the polls.  Multiple times per day, party members would deliver food and drink to their teams of workers in the polling centers.

These operations of ARENA and the FMLN are impressive.   In contrast, while Tony Saca's UNIDAD coalition had poll watchers and election workers in the great majority of polling locations, I saw little sign of the additional organizational apparatus of the dominant parties.   Saca simply was not able to turn out the vote.

Quijano had the operation to turn out the vote, but he had little success in capturing more than the 35% of voters which ARENA can dependably count on in every election.   There was no indication that Quijano had much appeal to voters in the center of the political spectrum.  Those center voters who actually went to the polls appear to have supported the FMLN and a continuation of the policies of the current government.

The much-touted vote from the exterior was a non-event.  Only 1909 ballots were received from the 2 million Salvadorans living outside of the country.  They voted 61% for the FMLN, and 31% for ARENA.


BenJoeM said…
Interestingly enough Quijano only won the Cabañas department. The smallest and poorest. He came close in La Libertad but still is losing in every department. Saca has only delayed the end. I saw the same things you did. Well organize and great transparency for the voters. Many people told me today how impressed they were.
Carlos X. said…
Tim, here is Quijano's Hail Mary. I don't think it will happen, but your readers may want to hear the angle. First, Quijano needs to believe that all of Saca's voters are basically right of center voters. The argument is that the people that stuck with Saca on election day are his hard core, his base, and they are bound to drift back to ARENA. If you add the 38.95% ARENA got last night with the 11.44% Saca got last night, you get 50.49%, which is just enough for Quijano to squeeze into the presidency. Problem: Quijano has no room for error, and he needs every single Saca voter to run into his arms, and Salvador Sanchez Ceren may have something to say about that. "No problem," ARENA will say, "we have a reserve." ARENA argues that their voters knew that their voters knew it was not going to be resolved last night. They have a point: every poll, including the ones published here, showed that a runoff would be needed because no one would get the 50% +1 required last night. So, according to ARENA, their people knew all along that the second round was where the election would be decided so they decided to sit out the initial vote and will be out en force on March 9. As you mention, there was a very low turnout. So, if Quijano is right on both those counts, he could pull a stunner. But, the other possibility is that an aura of inevitability will settle around Salvador Sanchez Ceren and the electorate will simply ratify him in the runoff. Ultimately, Quijano's scenario involves multiple assumptions and suppositions, whereas Sanchez Ceren's 10 point margin of victory is concrete and palpable.
Rip said…
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Rip said…
Hopefully the poor turnout from outside El Salvador will generate some improvements in the process. The process was not well documented, the TSE website seems to be offline as much as it is on, and we're still looking for a way to participate in the runoff. notes there were issues, although it's not exactly an exposé.
Hodad said…
yep a real shame the very very low of folks outside the country that voted, what less than 2000 out of 2-3 million over 18? not good, but then it is over FMLN wins, thank God