El Salvador: Legislative and Municipal Elections Conducted with Flaws

Salvadorans marked party flags on their ballots Sunday during nationwide legislative and municipal elections. The local press is focusing on the capital where right-wing ARENA won the mayor seat from the left-wing FMLN. Nonetheless international media report that the FMLN won a majority of legislative seats.

So far, all political parties have accepted results peacefully, but irregularities in the voting process have raised concerns in several municipalities. The Center for Exchange and Solidarity (El Centro de Intercambio y Solidarididad, CIS), which coordinated an international electoral observation mission, reported several concerns with the way voting developed throughout the country.

The worst came when voting was halted at 10 a.m. on Sunday in San Isidro, Cabañas. Members of one vote-receiving table noticed that a group of individuals from outside of the municipality illegally attempted to vote. Members of the vote-receiving table from 4 of the 5 political parties alleged that the group was not from that municipality and halted voting in order to evaluate the situation. The departmental and municipal electoral boards met with representatives of the Attorney General and the National Human Rights Ombudsperson throughout the day on Sunday. They agreed to hold the elections one week later with more monitoring.

While San Isidro was the only municipality that closed voting, other municipalities reported that foreigners voted, or attempted to vote, with false identification. A bus of 46 Nicaraguans, reportedly from the Union of Latin American Parties (Unión de Partidos Latinoamericanos), was stopped in the town of Jiquilisco at 9 pm on Saturday night before the election. Although they claimed to be foreign observers, none of them had necessary observer credentials nor had they received orientation or training for this position.

Border towns were most affected by the illegal transfer of voters, but political parties were witnessed transporting people from one municipality to more strategic municipalities in order to bolster results in their favor. Buses and trucks full of people arrived in Guacotecti from other municipalities and buses from Huizucar arrived full of voters in San Jose Villanueva where the mayor race was close.

During Election Day, many obstacles denied voters the right to a secret vote. At most voting centers, active partisan observers stood within viewing distance of the booths. Although this can be attributed to a lack of space, it allowed parties to track votes and instilled mistrust in voters. Some outdoor voting centers had voting booths that were visible from nearby balconies where people were posted with binoculars.  

In many outdoor voting centers, the general public was allowed to enter and mill around. Vendors, business owners, and residents of the streets where voting occurred contributed to the confusion and congestion.

The indelible ink used to mark voters’ thumbs and prevent double voting was not clearly visible after application, and many tables did not check voters’ hands for marks anyway.

The boy scouts were present to guide voters to their assigned table in some municipalities, but other voting centers lacked a non-partisan source of orientation. Confused voters interrupted voting at the tables in order to ask directions.

Several parties illegally distributed propaganda in the voting centers. Party flags were displayed within some voting centers and trucks with party flags parked nearby. Some politicians interrupted or distracted voters by parading through with large groups of people dressed in party colors or conducting press conferences. Several people, including candidates for public office and members of the vote-receiving tables, purposefully displayed their vote to the public. Lunches with party flags were distributed to members of the vote-receiving table and voting assignments were written on paper with party logos.

Evidence of bribes made by ARENA circulated days after the election. Two documents request the name of people in the household who support ARENA and promised a payment and some corn in return.

People were denied the right to vote if they did not present a legible document of identification (DUI) or if their name did not appear in the voter registry, as the electoral code mandates.

In two months Salvadorans will return to the polls to elect a new president. The various problems witnessed on January 18th are likely to maintain the voter mistrust in the system.

Alexandria Soleil is a US-Latin America solidarity activist from Wyoming. She recently graduated from Seattle University with majors in International Studies and Spanish. She currently works with young people in San Salvador.  She can be reached at adelantesoleil(at)gmail.com

Maggie Von Vogt is a Philadelphia-based educator, independent journalist, and social justice organizer who works with Media Mobilizing Project and Labor Justice Radio. She is a recent recipient of the Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant. She is currently living in El Salvador. You can reach her at: maggievonvogt(at)gmail.com