With the FMLN party maintaining what the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has called an “irreversible,” if narrow, lead in the final vote count for El Salvador’s March 9th presidential election, the opposition ARENA party has turned to destabilization tactics, fomenting unrest and misinformation in an effort to contest the election results. On the night of Monday, March 10th, ARENA sent out a massive call on social media to mobilize its militancy for a demonstration the following morning against the TSE. Claiming themselves the victims of a massive electoral conspiracy, ARENA called on its militancy to denounce the TSE’s process as corrupt and demand a vote-by-vote recount.
On the morning of Tuesday, March 11th, CISPES observers were present to document the march, which streamed through the wealthy Escalón neighborhood and ended in a rally outside of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where the TSE is currently conducting its final official vote count, reviewing each voting table’s legal record of voting results as mandated by the Electoral Code. Demonstrators carried pre-printed signs that read “Vote by Vote,” “SOS El Salvador,” “No to Fraud” and “Recount.” Chanting the party’s slogan “Fatherland YES, Communism NO,” the vast majority of protesters were clearly members of the capital’s wealthiest class, light-skinned and sporting expensive brands. Others admitted to the mediathat they were paid to attend.
TSE President Eugenio Chicas and Attorney General Luis Martínez have publicly affirmed that the Electoral Code does not permit a vote-by-vote recount, given that the number of challenged ballots is not greater than the difference in votes between the two parties. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department, the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nationsand other major international observation missions have praised the TSE’s work for its historic transparency in a nation with a long history of electoral fraud, and called for all parties to respect the electoral process. Nevertheless, ARENA leaders assured the crowd of their party’s victory.
As the ARENA party rallied outside to cries of fraud and conspiracy, CISPES observers entered the Crowne Plaza Hotel to observe the ongoing final count. Inside, the process was being documented and observed by national and international media as well as national and international electoral observers and representatives from both political parties. In addition to the observers and media witnessing the count in a secure room, the process is livestreamedin the hotel and on the TSE’s website for the public. The original legal record of voting results from each voting table is checked against the copies that were distributed on Election Day to each political party, a representative of the Attorney General’s office and the TSE. The high level of transparency inside the Crowne Plaza set a stark contrast to the ARENA leadership’s shouts of corruption to their agitated supporters outside.
At about 4:00 PM, both members of the ARENA presidential ticket entered the hotel and announced to the media that the party was withdrawing its representatives from the count. In a bold measure to ensure that ARENA was not successful in its attempts to undermine the nation’s stability, the TSE continued the count without ARENA’s participation. Following several hours of posturing and boisterous claims to the press, the right-wing party agreed to return the following morning, with the TSE in an act of good will agreeing to resume the process from the point at which ARENA had abandoned it. At 8:00 AM today, both parties returned to the count at the Crowne Plaza.
ARENA’s tactics of mobilization and boycott echo those used by the Venezuelan right-wing opposition to contest the democratic elections of April, 2013, and indeed ARENA works closely with the Venezuelan Right and has continuously invoked the crisis provoked there to frighten Salvadoran voters from supporting the FMLN. Nevertheless, the international community has been unanimous in its endorsement of El Salvador’s electoral process, refuting ARENA’s unfounded claims. CISPES and others will continue to accompany the Salvadoran people at this critical moment; CISPES observers are currently stationed at the hotel, and will provide ongoing coverage of the process as it unfolds.