October 10, 2008
As the presidential election nears, independent polls show opposition candidate Mauricio Funes (FMLN) consistently 15% ahead of the government party candidate (Rodrigo Avila, ARENA). However, the possibility of fraud and U.S. intervention is worrisome. This document outlines five areas of fraud and intervention, four of which have already occurred in El Salvador in the lead-up to the 2009 elections.
a. Fraud prior to the elections
The lack of enforcement of electoral code by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the governing body which runs El Salvador's elections, has created discrepancies and fraud leading to the elections. According to Salvadoran electoral code, Article 230, and the Salvadoran Constitution, Article 81, political parties are allowed to start their political campaigns four months before the elections.[i] However, many political parties began their campaigns before the designated date.[ii] For example, the ARENA party has had presidential political commercials on television in El Salvador since June of 2007, even though the elections are to be held in March of 2008. Recently former ambassador to the United States, Ernest Rivas-Gallont, denounced ARENA's propaganda campaign on his blog.[iii]
The state apparatus has been put at the disposable of ARENA for their political campaign. Letters asking for support for the ARENA candidate have been sent to students of voting age in schools, which indicates ARENA has had access to records in the Ministry of Education to see which students are eligible to vote. Also, ARENA has sent letters to home addresses of ex-military, showing they also have access to the database of the Ministry of Defense.
The 2004 elections, public workers were pressured to vote for the governing party. The pressure was so intense that the Legislative Assembly recommended to the Ministries of Health, Public Works and Governance to "stop pressuring their employees and workers to affiliate with the governing party in exchange for obtaining or maintaining their jobs."[iv]
Also, ARENA has been allowed to give out chickens, seeds, fertilizer and other products in order to sway voters. These actions are viewed by many as an effort to buy votes of people with limited resources.[v]
b. Changes to Electoral Law that Create Possibility for Fraud
The majority of representatives to the TSE (three of the five representatives) identify politically with the governing party. In 2006 the TSE regulations changed from a four person to a three person majority to approve decisions. While the President of the TSE insists that all necessarily steps have been taken to ensure fair and transparent elections, other members continue to criticize the possibilities for electoral fraud.[vi]
This year, the TSE has changed electoral policy by revoking the requirement that all ballots must be signed and stamped by a polling official on Election Day and separating the dates for mayoral/legislative elections and presidential elections.[vii] Additionally, the TSE annulled the recommendations made by the Organization of American States to certify its electoral registry.[viii]
c. Fraud on Election Day
There have been many problems with the electoral registry in past elections. It is a widely recognized that people who are dead often appear on the electoral registry and votes are cast in their name. Also, people from neighboring countries, such as Honduras and Guatemala, were brought to El Salvador in the 2006 to participate in the mayoral and legislative elections.[ix]
In the 2004 elections, there were reports in at least sixteen municipalities that many citizens who arrived at the polls were not allowed to vote because someone had already voted in their place.[x]
d. Violence or Intimidation
There have been threats of violence or military revolt if the opposition party comes to power. In September, the government party's presidential candidate participated in a march with the military veteran's organization ASVEM. At the event, ASVEM´s president said that the military veterans would be on alert to any actions that the opposition candidate should take if he becomes president, as their organization was created to defend the country against enemies to liberty. [xi]
In the past two years, there has been an increasing criminalization of protest in El Salvador, as seen in the case of the Suchitoto 13, when 13 community members peacefully participating in a forum against water privatization on July 2nd 2007 were arrested and charged with terrorism. There is also increasing violence toward community and social leaders, as exemplified by the murder of Hector Ventura, on of the 13 community members arrested, who was killed less than one month after the charges against him were dropped. There are many possibilities of increased violence before, during and after the elections.
As the campaign approaches, there have been an increasing number of direct acts of political violence. On October 14th 20 ARENA party activists attacked an FMLN supporter and then four journalists who came to cover the incident.[xii] Also, on September 4th, an FMLN campaigner was hospitalized after having been attacked by ARENA activists in San Salvador.[xiii]
e. U.S. Intervention
In September, El Salvador's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marisol Argueta, asked the U.S. government to intervene in the upcoming Salvadoran presidential elections, claiming that El Salvador's opposition party consists of ¨dangerous populists¨ that will harm national and regional security. Although the Salvadoran constitution prohibits government representatives from advocating for a particular political party, Argueta´s statements have caused fear in El Salvador.[xiv]
In the Salvadoran presidential elections in 2004, U.S. Congressman Thomas Tancredo and Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere Otto Reich claimed that the flow of Salvadoran remittances to the U.S. and immigration policy would be changed if the opposition party candidate was elected. These biased comments were widely publicized in the press in El Salvador.[xv] During the last week, ARENA has run political ads in El Salvador making connections between a possible FMLN win and danger to remittances and TPS states for Salvadorans in the United States.
[i] For the entire Salvadoran Electoral Code see http://www.tse.gob.sv/e107_files/downloads/codigo_electoral.pdf and for the entire Constitution of the Republic of El Salvador see http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/ElSal/constitucion2003.pdf
[ii] See Diario Co Latino, May 15, 2008. "Propaganda adelantada, atropello a las leyes? (Early start to propaganda capaign, violation of the law?)" www.diariocolatino.com
[iii] For his specific comments see http://www.netorivas.blogspot.com/
[iv] Documented in Diario CoLatino February 12, 2004.
[v] See Salvapress, September 17, 2008. "Campana Sucia contra el FMLN es peligrosa (Dirty Campaign against FMLN is Dangerous)"
[vi] See El Diario de Hoy. October 9, 2008. "Contra el fraude para las elecciones de 2009 (Against fraud in the 2009 elections" www.elsalvador.com
[viii] FESPAD (Foundation for the Study of Applied Law), May 2008: "ACD condena al Presidente del TSE por violar acuerdo con la OEA" ("Citizen Action for Democracy condemns the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for violating accord with Organization of American States"). Available at http://fespad.org.sv/wordpress/?p=41
[ix] "International Observer's Report on 2006 Elections in El Salvador" CISPES. July 20, 2006. http://www.cispes.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=73&Itemid=29
[x] "Presidential Elections El Salvador International Observer Mission. Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad" Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad.. 2004. http://www.cis-elsalvador.org/en/election-observation/2004-election-mission.html
[xi] See La Prensa Grafica, September 8, 2008. "Militares retirados fustigan al FMLN (Retired military members whip the FMLN". www.lapresnagrafica.com.
[xii] See Diario Co Latino, October 10-28, 2008. edition 84 "Violencia Electoral contra Comunicadores (Electoral Visolence against Press )" www.diariocolatino.com
[xiii] See Diario Co Latino, Gloria Silvia Orellana. September 5, 2008. "FMLN denuncia agresión por parte del partido ARENA (FMLN denounces agression by the ARENA party)"www.diariocolatino.com.
[xiv] Remarks of Foreign Minister Marisol Argueta to American Enterprise Institute, Septembet 18. 2008.
[xv] See El Diario de Hoy. March 20, 2004 "Ejecutivo preocupado por el futuro de las remesas y deportación." www.elsalvador.com