Scorn for Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Congratulations for Bukele

Tweny-four hours after polls closed in El Salvador's national elections, criticism is mounting for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) after an ongoing breakdown in its ability to provide preliminary election results. Results published on the site of the TSE were last updated at 5:34 in the morning El Salvador time, showing Bukele garnering 83% of the votes after 70% of the voting table results had been processed.  Almost none of the Legislative Assembly results had been processed.   While there is still no doubt that Bukele won in a landslide, the exact size of his victory and the number of seats his Nuevas Ideas party will hold are still not known.

The vote tallies displayed on the TSE website had inconsistencies which led most observers to doubt their credibility. During the course of the day Monday, the TSE issued a communique asking the election boards in each department to promptly deliver all the ballots and election materials to the central facilities of the TSE.  In response, the election board (JED) of San Salvador, the largest department, issued a statement saying that it had not received those materials, blaming the TSE for numerous failures, and basically saying the JED did not know where the ballots were. 

This afternoon the TSE convened the parties and press to state that said it was going to need to count all the ballots for legislative deputy, voting table by voting table, starting from zero. For the presidential election, the TSE will just do a new count of ballots for which tally sheets had not been able to be processed by the electronic system (approximately 30% of the total).

Opposition party candidates then went before the press to demand that the TSE provide guarantees of the chain of custody of the ballots.  In other words, demanding that the TSE show where the ballots were and who had handled them since the moment the ballots were placed in the ballot box.

As if that was not enough, on election night, members of the Salvadoran diaspora who were waiting to vote at some of the voting sites around the US, were turned away before they could vote.  

The @TSEElSalvador and the company @IndraCompany They are closing the voting centers, not letting in Salvadorans who were already in line. This is a crime in our country and those responsible must be prosecuted.

Apparently the lease on the space at some sites where voting was occurring expired, and facility owners were unwilling to extend the time.   The TSE said it would announce when citizens who had been denied the opportunity to vote would get a new chance.   Meaning the election is not yet done?????

Meanwhile, world leaders have been congratulating Bukele on his re-election and pledged to work with him.   China was one of the first to congratulate Bukele last night in a tweet:

We extend our most sincere congratulations
 to President @nayibbukele and his party
@nuevasideas, for the historic victory in
these elections. From now on, we make ourselves
available to strengthen ties of friendship
 and bilateral cooperation between both countries.

China's gift to El Salvador of a new national library became one of the highlight reels in Bukele's re-election campaign videos, and LED lights over the exterior of that library became part of the backdrop of Bukele's victory speech last night.

Central American leaders also congratulated Bukele, with Guatemala's new president Bernard Arevalo adding his voice to those of leaders from Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama who all recognized the election results.  The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship in Nicaragua also saluted the Salvadoran president.  

Congratulations came in from US Secretary of State Andrew Blinken:

I congratulate Nayib Bukele on his electoral victory as President of El Salvador.  The United States commends the work of electoral observers and looks forward to working with President-elect Bukele and Vice President-elect Felix Ulloa following their inauguration in June.  

The United States values our strong relationship with the people of El Salvador, forged over 160 years and built on shared values, regional ties, and family connections.  Events in El Salvador have a direct impact on U.S. interests at home and abroad.  Only by working together can we achieve our full potential and overcome the greatest obstacles in our hemisphere and globally.

Looking ahead, the United States will continue to prioritize good governance, inclusive economic prosperity, fair trial guarantees, and human rights in El Salvador under our Root Causes Strategy. 

Within the US Congress, praise, or words of caution fell along party lines.  Democratic Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee wrote:

We congratulate the people of El Salvador and those in the Salvadoran diaspora who exercised their democratic right to vote over the weekend. While people exercised their right to vote, we are troubled by the unconstitutional moves that strongly influenced the outcome of Sunday’s election and statements by the Vice President about “eliminating” and “replacing” democracy. While we acknowledge the government’s progress on combatting the violent crime that has plagued El Salvador for too long, we remain concerned about weakened transparency and oversight mechanisms and the rapid undermining of the rule of law and human rights protections.

 Meanwhile, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz both offered congratulatory statements.

The TSE does not have much time to get its act together.  There are elections for municipal governments in the country's 44 municipalities on March 3.