Officials of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) thanked members of the international observation team on March 16 for their work in limiting electoral fraud committed by the previous ruling right-wing Arena party in the presidential elections on March 15.
Despite fraud, the FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes won the vote.
More than 4000 observers from around the world were officially registered by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for the election.
The FMLN reported at least 1000 international observers supporting their campaign were registered.
Countries represented included the USA, Canada, Europe and Latin America, particularly a large number from neighbouring Guatemala. We were part of a group of about 15 Australians organised by Supporters of the FMLN and Australian Solidarity with Latin America, mostly made up of El Salvadoran refugees now living in Australia.
We were given intensive training by FMLN representatives on issues facing electoral observers in the days prior to the election.
On the morning of March 15, it was an early start for everyone. FMLN militants were out early preparing for the voting mobilisation, and observers were out by 5am to begin the battle to limit fraud.
For days and even weeks beforehand, community supporters of the FMLN had mobilised in their neighbourhoods to watch out for potential vote rigging by the Arena machine, often in collusion with police.
On polling day, reports from the media and observers noted angry crowds surrounding any person suspected of fraud, either for voting multiple times or being foreigners brought in from Honduras, Guatemala or Nicaragua to vote illegally with false DUI Identification Cards.
We ourselves observed one such case at the International Fair voting centre in San Salvador, one of the biggest in the capital. We spoke to the man briefly and passed on details to the FMLN reporting office.
However, our most dramatic experience occurred from 5am, when our team were rushed out to the Cuscatlan Stadium in the pre-dawn darkness to investigate a huge gathering of some 10,000 Arena supporters who had been concentrated there the previous night. This was to allow for hundreds of buses and minibuses to ferry them to various polling stations the next day.
While is was not possible to obtain absolute proof, strong evidence suggested that many of these were Hondurans brought in by Arena as part of their systematic voting fraud campaign.
Arena officials claimed they were all El Salvadorans living in the capital, but coloured lines were painted on the roads leading from the stadium to allow bus drivers from other parts of the country, and unfamiliar with San Salvador, to find the voting centres.
We were able to obtain details of many of the number plates of the buses, so that FMLN investigators can check if the buses had indeed come from the capital or elsewhere in the country.
While exact figures can not be given at this stage, it is highly likely that the heavy pressure placed on Arena by the international observers forced them to limit fraudulent activities.
At all the polling stations, international observers were everywhere, taking photos and notes.
The FMLN has pledged to take steps to thoroughly reform the electoral system. Reports by international observers will play a role in the changes being proposed.
It was a wonderful experience to be present at this great victory for the FMLN after decades of struggle. To play a small part in assisting that win was even more satisfying.