As of 10:30 PM on Sunday, March 9th, the preliminary results confirmed by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) showed the FMLN ahead of ARENA by .22% (approximately 7,000 votes) with 50.11% of the almost 3 million votes cast and ARENA with 49.89% of the vote. 14 vote receiving tables had final vote counts (actas) that were unable to be processed last night because of administrative mistakes like a missing signature or a miscalculation. The closeness of the results combined with these unprocessed actas prompted the TSE to reverse their declaration made earlier yesterday that they would announce the results by 10 PM. Instead, the votes will go into a “final scrutiny,” and the official results won’t be announced until today or possibly Tuesday.
Last night, both Salvador Sanchez Ceren and Norman Quijano declared themselves winners. Quijano’s campaign declared victory around 7:30 PM with only 77% of the vote counted and with the FMLN up by .16%. While the slim lead has since narrowed even further, Quijano has claimed electoral fraud. In his victory speech last night around 9:30 PM, Quijano said, “We are not going to allow Venezuelan-style fraud, in the style of Chavez and Maduro. We have our own recount, which shows we won.” Quijano went on to criticize the electoral tribunal, saying it “sold out to the dictatorship”, and that “the armed forces are ready to make democracy”. His use of frighteningly violent language continued when he said that his party was on “a war footing” and vowed “to fight with our lives, if necessary” to defend what he claimed was his victory, even going so far as to call on the military to protest the fraud. In Sanchez Ceren’s victory speech, he called for unity and welcomed dialogue with ARENA, and clarified that he has not declared himself winner because the TSE has asked for the candidates and parties to refrain from ding so until the official results are in – he is simply celebrating the FMLN’s margin of victory thus far. He went on to comment that he is confident that the tendency has remained clear throughout, and that the FMLN can expect official victory. International observers (including SHARE and CISPES) have overwhelmingly described the electoral process here as transparent and fair, with the main difference from last time being an increase in voter turnout and increased tension between ARENA and the FMLN. The US government has so far maintained its neutrality, calling for peace and patience for the official results to be announced. The results have been a stunning reversal of most polls results as of two weeks ago, some exit polls from yesterday, and internal FMLN polls that all showed the FMLN securely ahead by at least 10 percentage points. What happened?
ARENA has shown that its fear tactics work. Since the protests in Venezuela erupted, the ARENA campaign has run ads capitalizing on the FMLN’s political alliance with the Venezuelan government, warning that a vote for the FMLN would turn El Salvador into Venezuela. The TSE found one of those ads slanderous and forced the campaign to stop running it, but the negative Venezuela comparisons continued in other spots. Quijano also capitalized on a suspiciously higher homicide and crime rate since January 1st, saying that only ARENA has the will to deal effectively with the gangs.
The FMLN went up one percentage point, which means that they actually had more voters voting for them since February 2nd, but ARENA went up 11%, which means that they were able to get the people that voted for the UNIDAD coalition in February, and then some more.
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