Salvador Sanchez Ceren, the presidential candidate of El Salvador’s left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, was declared the winner of the country’s run-off presidential election on March 12.
Ceren won 50.11% of total votes. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) declared the victory after voting sheets were cross-referenced with preliminary results from election day.
Right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) candidate Norman Quijano, who won 49.89%, has denounced the results. Quijano claims he was “robbed by between 30,000 and 40,000 votes”, Reuters said on March 12.
California-based immigration attorney Richard Hobbs took part in the electoral process as an electoral observer representing the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador and says the process was “clean and transparent”. Below, he is interviewed on the elections and their significance by Ramiro S. Funez. It is reprinted from NACLA.
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What is your response to March 9’s run-off presidential election in El Salvador?
First, it is important to recognise that the FMLN won due to the significant advances made during the past four-to-five years [under an FMLN-backed government].
Secondly, these elections were as clean and transparent as they could possibly be, as I saw first-hand at three voting centres.
Finally, ARENA's super-funded malicious campaign cumulatively paid off ― literally paid off.
What are your thoughts on ARENA's response to the FMLN's victory?
Of course ARENA is claiming fraud. From the start and as an integral part of their campaign, ARENA claimed fraud on the part of the TSE, attacking the magistrates and trying to sue the TSE on a number of fronts.
In his speech on March 9, Quijano called the TSE corrupt. But this is demagoguery, not fact.
There were accusations made by several mainstream media outlets claiming Sanchez Ceren and the FMLN are linked to gang and drug cartels. Do you believe they may have been smear campaigns incited by ARENA?
It is important to recall that out of 20 television stations in El Salvador, only one is independent; that out of about 100 radio stations, only about five are independent or left leaning; and that there is only one left-leaning newspaper in all of El Salvador.
The dis- and mis-information campaigns against the FMLN were huge. On March 9, the main newspaper (Prensa Grafica) had front page stories about Venezuela and the FMLN’s “alliance with gangs”.
ARENA has raised a major campaign saying the FMLN has allied with gangs simply because the FMLN is interested in trying to reinsert gang members into society and rehabilitate some ex-gang members. ARENA, however, has said it only wants to put every gang member in jail.
For the week before the vote, ARENA's dominant theme in the newspapers has been to avoid “another Venezuela” ― especially since the anti-Chavista campaign has gained international media traction.
What do you think we can expect from the FMLN and ARENA in the next few weeks?
It is clear that ARENA will make a major push a la Venezuela to use all its tools of domination, especially the control of the media and legal intervention, to declare that the election of Sanchez Ceren was the result of fraud.
They will ask the Constitutional Chamber, totally bought off by the right wing, to declare the FMLN victory unconstitutional. Quijano also said on election night that he has alerted the armed forces that they need to “uphold the will of the Salvadoran people”.
And the FMLN's response to Quijano and ARENA's actions?
Sanchez Ceren has told members and supporters of the FMLN that they need to go to the streets to protect this critical victory. An indication of this was the night of March 9, where I witnessed tens of thousands of FMLN supporters gathered at Redondel Masferrer to support the motivating speeches of the president- and vice-president- elect.
In those speeches the candidates made a point to reach out to all Salvadorans, to promote understanding, to protect private property and businesses.
Do you believe ARENA will have any success with their campaigns against the FMLN's alleged electoral fraud?
Al la Honduras [where the courts created a legal justification for a coup that overthrew elected left-wing president Manuel Zelaya], it is possible that ARENA, which now controls the highest court of El Salvador, will try a judicial coup to overturn the election results.
The FMLN has not proposed the same reforms that [Zelaya in] Honduras had proposed, but it is almost a given that ARENA will attack the TSE magistrates and the most democratic campaign in the history of El Salvador ― with the largest turnout ever ― to declare the victory undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Meantime, the FMLN is trying hard to create a new culture of democracy, rule of law and compromise that can lead to significant steps forward to meet the human needs of all Salvadorans.
As an observer of the election, what were your thoughts on the transparency of the polling booths and the vote's legitimacy? Were there any irregularities you witnessed? Were there any cases of bribery or threat?
At the national level, it was clear that ARENA invested heavily in paying people to renew their national voter ID cards. Water and basic foodstuffs were handed out at re-registration centres, which were open until two days before the campaign.
I personally visited three voting centers, concentrating on two of the three largest voting centres in San Salvador. At Francisco Melendez High School I monitored 12 of the 24 voting areas and there were 18 cases where voters were not allowed to vote due to a variety of issues, including identity cards that had a number higher than the last number issued officially, cards that were fraudulently photocopied, etc.
However, I believe it is incontrovertible that the election process nationwide, and certainly where I was observing, was clean, fair and transparent. In every case, I saw the resolution of even hotly contested issues at voter tables.
From the set-up of the polls at 5am to the transmission of the vote totals after the close of the polls at 5pm, I witnessed democratic, efficient and motivated efforts in support of the overwhelming desire of the Salvadoran people.
Any other thoughts on the election you would like to share?
Just like in the US, money buys votes. Apart from its huge fear campaign in the press that there could be an end to remittances [money sent by Salvadorean migrants back to family in El Salvador, which makes up about half the country's GDP], that the country could end up like Venezuela [facing violent right-wing protests], and gangs and cartels will overrun it, ARENA also financed extra tactics that helped make this vote one of the closest in the history of Latin America.
For example, I talked to a woman from Milbrae, California, who had been urged to fly to San Salvador by ARENA to vote, and a man who had been asked by a person with a Mexican accent if he would “complete a survey” at 9am on election day ― and was then informed that Salvador Sanchez Ceren was an assassin.
To smother the press with anti-FMLN messages, pay for fake polling, pay people to present false voter identity cards or cards renewed through bribery, pursue lawsuits against the TSE, etc ― it all costs money. It represents the tactics of the Salvadoran wealthy and ruling class.
The fact that the FMLN was able to overcome this onslaught is a testament to the gains of the FMLN in the last few years, the organising capacity of the FMLN nationally, and the strong desire of the Salvadoran people to live a life where their institutions can be democratic, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable and kind.