LIVE UPDATES: Check out Tim’s El Salvador blog, he put a good link up to the Election Commission that shows election results as they come in, percentage of ballots counted and percent that remain for each area. Many ballots are still being counted (10:30 pm Salvadoran time). Preliminary results are not surprising: ARENA, coming in highest for both mayor/senators, FMLN in 2nd, and GANA in 3rd – but, they are preliminary!!
UPDATE: my husband, Jesus, has gone on the 1.5 hour drive back home to post his ballot, wahoo!
Today, March 11, 2012, up to 4.5 million Salvadorans will vote for 84 senators and 262 mayors in a legislative and municipal election. Nine parties are running (and 5 candidates are independent).
NEW rules: there is an exciting change in El Salvador with this election. Up to now, individual voters have not been able to elect individual “Senators” (Diputado is the word in Spanish for representatives in the legislative assembly). Previously, you had to vote for a “party”, and the party would then choose the Diputado (sounds like an easy way to get re-elected, doesn’t it?). Well, that’s half changed, because citizens can still vote for a “party,” like before, or they can now vote for individual candidates. The media and government have done a great job with instructive ads through all types of media explaining how the new process and ballots work. I asked my co-worker Nico, at my volunteer job recently, what he thought and he said, “Well, it’s good, but….the choices of who to elect are still BAD!” We laughed about that. Same lack of good politician choice, different country. Here is a funny blog post on something N. Americans might find bizarre about Salvadoran elections.
Campaign/Media Freeze three days before elections. On Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 12:00am there was a “hard stop” on all campaign advertisement. Here they use the Spanish word “propaganda” to refer to it, which I find rather tickling. This is to give citizens “time to reflect on who they want to vote for”, according to the Election Commission / TSE (“que la ciudadanía se tome los espacios de tiempo para reflexionar a quién se le dará el voto“).
- Campaigners were making final attempts to lure votes Wednesday night. A van was driving through our neighborhood with a loudspeaker broadcasting ARENA “propaganda” at 9:30pm. That may not sound like much to you, but 9:30pm in most parts of El Salvador is fairly late to have a vehicle booming information at you. The van circled past our house a few times with a woman’s voice on the megaphone.
- Media frenzy: With all the hoopla going on, it almost feels like a presidential election – ads have been going on for months though every media source, and from every angle. Even back in 2009, several months after Mauricio Funes won the presidential election, ARENA (the opposing party) posted billboards in San Salvador stating the new guys were “Incompetentes” – planning well ahead or feeling aftershocks over their recent loss. During this campaign, FMLN ran ads with “humble” people, one had an older man in it, and touching piano music. So ARENA ran an Ad in response, copycatting the cinematography and music, with a similar-looking ‘poblano’ saying why he’s voting for them. Then this week I was listening to a left-wing radio station. Funes was making a speech while signing over 1,350 property deeds to Salvadorans in San Isidro en Izalco (Sonsonate). Most of the recipients have been working or living on lands tied up in red tape or abandoned for years and without proper titles. Funes said that during the ‘reign of conservatives & ARENA,’ a total of 34,000 property deeds were granted to Salvadorans over the span of 30 years; he compared this to his current FMLN administration, with just 2.5 years in power, which has already given 24,590. They plan to increase that number to 45,000 by year’s end, and by the end of their five years in power, they plan to have signed over 90,000 properties. I liked hearing these positive statistics but given the well-timed ‘entrega’ (delivery) of these lands to campesinos – 5 days before elections – hmm… it seemed like a campaign event. The station played the full speech, lasting an incredibly long time on radio air, and laced with thinly veiled campaign rhetoric so I finally changed the station.
- We still had propaganda the night before the election in our own neighborhood, despite the ‘hard stop’ – but private, so legal. Eduardo, who lives on the road down below us and always plays great Cumbia old style Ranchera music on Saturdays, loud enough so we don’t have to play our own (good thing I like his taste in music), dedicated his stereo last night to songs and slogans from the ARENA party. Did they provide him with a CD to play?, I wonder. I’m going to give him a citizen citation for emitting propaganda during the moratorium.
- A “Frente” kind of town: Los Planes de Renderos, where we live, is presided by a municipality that is currently FMLN run (“El Frente” is a nickname for this party). Last year, someone(s) posted 3 or 4 large billboard-like signs near the main entrance to Los Planes, with phrases like “20 years of corruption,” in reference to the ARENA party. These signs stayed up in clear view for at least 3 months – on someone’s private and strategically located property. Eventually, the signs came down, but they gave me a chuckle every time I passed them by.
Election Observers Sighting! My husband and I worked on his construction job Saturday, and on our way home we saw a police car with its lights flashing ahead of us. We couldn’t figure out who was being ‘pulled over’ until we saw that they were escorting a discreetly unmarked, and very new-looking white bus behind it. Most buses in El Salvador are either the notorious “Chicken Buses” – rehabbed N. American school buses or minibuses in local fleets, luxury buses for travel between larger cities here, or colorful and always new buses loaded with tourists. So I asked my husband, “Do you think that bus has people who came to observe the elections?” “Definitely,” he said. At 5:30pm the night before the election, they must have been physically dispersing them throughout the country. I was thrilled that we (believe we) got to see this ‘in action’ and with a police escort to boot. (A total of 3,250+ people from within and outside of El Salvador will serve as election observers. See details below. )
Last but not least: a 3-day DRY LAW (Ley Seca para las elecciones en El Salvador) began at 12:00am Saturday morning, and lasts through the Tuesday, 12am after election day. While watching the news late Friday night, my husband announces, “We screwed up, no more alcohol after tonight all weekend!”
The first time I experienced this in El Salvador, I thought, “What?! The government is playing ‘parent’ with its citizens, treating them like children or teenagers with this dry law, how dare them? The ACLU would be on TOP of this back home.” But now, after having spent over 2 years here, I understand that people get very involved and heated in El Salvador regarding their choice of political party (like Eduardo’s ARENA music tracks), so an alcohol free environment in those tense moments right before the election probably prevents numerous fights and all out craziness, or even riots that could erupt when zealots and regular folk are ignited with alcohol. Here’s how we handled the dry law: Since people like my husband and I live by the adage that ‘some laws are meant to be broken,’ we of course, tried to get around the dry law to enjoy a few well-deserved beers after a long week of construction work. We stopped at a Shell gas station and I went in without him, and played the “I’m just a gringa, I can’t vote anyway” card. The woman said she’d like to, but the scan will show on her receipts, and she’ll get in trouble. “No problem,” I said. Then we agreed, that of course, the smaller tiendas can do what they want, they don’t keep receipts or records, or have video cameras. So we rolled up in the car at the tienda on the way home, and my husband asked for them. “How many beers do you want?”, she asked. Bingo! We got four tall Pilseners and relished our small victory against the ‘dry law’ during elections.
Can Salvadorans living outside of El Salvador vote? Not yet, unfortunately, but Mauricio Funes has said he wants them to be able to by the 2014 election. Read more here: http://www.laprensagrafica.com/departamento-15/noticias/246227-el-salvador-anunciaria-pronto-planes-de-voto-en-el-exterior-.html
Details on Election Observers for March 2012 in El Salvador
Of the 3250+ observers, 1700 are through the Salvadoran Election Commission (Tribunal Supremo Electoral – TSE ), 850 of these are from outside of the country; the Organization of American States (Organización de Estados Americanos – OEA) has sent 23; 68 observers are appointed by the United Nations- from the University for Peace in Costa Rica (la Universidad para la Paz); 200 observers from Europe and Latin America via the Salvadoran Foundation for Local Development and Democracy (la Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Local y la Democracia); and the PDDH (a Salvadoran national agency) is also sending 1,552 national observers. Various other Salvadoran organizations are also sending hundreds of observers.
Here is a full article about the March 2012 election observers: http://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/internacionales/244500-mas-de-3250-observadores-verificaran-elecciones-manana-salvador