Thursday, March 13, 2014

El Salvador Election Officials: Final Vote Tally Points to FMLN Win

El Salvador’s election authority has proclaimed that the left wing FMLN eked out a narrow victory in the recent presidential elections, but a pending challenge to the results by the conservative ARENA party means that neither side can be declared the official winner just yet.

Last night, El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced the final results of its review of the 10,445 “actas,” or tally sheets, on which Sunday’s presidential election results were recorded. Their findings differed little from the preliminary vote count released on Sunday, as La Prensa Grafica reports. Electoral officials said that FMLN presidential candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren beat his ARENA counterpart Norman Quijano by a slightly slimmer margin than previously suggested (some 6,300 vs. 6,600 votes), but that their shares of the vote remain virtually unchanged (50.11 to 49.89 percent).

The tally sheet count was interrupted briefly on Tuesday when ARENA’s delegates withdrew from the process, alleging that the TSE was ignoring the party’s complaints of fraud and calls to annul the results and initiate a vote-by-vote count. In the end electoral officials resolved that the request for a full vote count was inadmissible, but that it would assess ARENA’s petition to annul the election results. Because a final decision on the request is still pending, the TSE is unable to declare Sanches Ceren the official winner.

As El Faro notes, the ARENA leadership claims to have proof of systemic fraud. In its complaint, the party alleges that it has three witnesses who can substantiate reports of double voting, and another three with supporting evidence that some polling stations arbitrarily prevented a number of ballots from being registered. Yesterday, Quijano told local press that there is evidence of some 20,000 people casting multiple ballots. When asked to produce witnesses, however, party spokespeople have declined, saying that the situation is too dangerous to present them to the public. ARENA also refrained from submitting its evidence to Attorney General Luis Martinez, despite Quijano’s claims that his party has all the necessary identification details to back up reports of fraud.

While the TSE has stood behind its decision to reject a full vote count, ARENA’s conservative support base has been mobilized, and demonstrations calling for a recount continue in the capital.

All of this drama ensures that, when (if?) Sanchez Ceren takes office on June 1, his legitimacy will be under fire from the start. This will likely increase pressure on him to appeal to moderate Salvadorans, but in the current political climate the opposition appears to have little incentive to find common ground with his administration.

News Briefs
  •  While the current situation in El Salvador suggests that the country may be more politically polarized than at any time since the 1992 end of its civil war, there are signs that the country’s democratic institutions have strengthened considerably. Despite Quijano’s ominous appeals to the military to defend his self-declared victory from fraud -- which he now denies making -- the armed forces have made a point of staying out of the election dispute. In a statement yesterday, Defense Minister David Munguia Payes reiterated that the army was apolitical, and would stand behind whoever was declared the rightful winner.
  • After a proposal to send an OAS delegation to Venezuela to monitor the human rights situation there was shot down, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has resolved to send a delegation of foreign ministers to promote dialogue and reconciliation in the country. Following an extraordinary meeting in Santiago yesterday, the foreign ministers of 12 member states agreed to a statement (available here) that aims to “assist the efforts” of the Venezuelan government to promote dialogue with opposition sectors, in coordination with the “national peace conference” launched by President Nicolas Maduro.
  • Three more shootings in the central city of Valencia yesterday raised the death toll in Venezuela to 25, as students held demonstrations to mark one month since the current wave of protests began. El Universal reports that yesterday, President Maduro announced he would meet with his security advisors to take “drastic measures” against the ongoing protests. There has been little reporting on what these  measures might be, but El Nacional notes that Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez recently Tweeted that they include orders to arrest those responsible for deaths in Valencia, as well as raids on suspects’ homes in the city.
  • As Uruguay prepares to roll out the specifics of its marijuana regulation initiative, the government has released new details about its planned implementation. In remarks to Chile’s La Tercera yesterday President Jose Mujica said that the marijuana intended for sale to the general public in the country would likely be grown on land owned by the military. This was confirmed yesterday by Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, who told El Pais that the armed forces would assume control of the security risks associated with marijuana cultivation.
  • The Miami Herald reports that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cancelled a planned visit to the Dominican Republic this week in light of the escalating situation in Ukraine. The DR government had postponed a planned bilateral meeting with Haitian officials in preparation for Biden’s visit, and the paper notes that some analysts view the cancellation as a missed opportunity to urge Dominican authorities to implement a solution to the country’s recent controversial citizenship ruling.
  • Following the arrest of Mexican vigilante leader Hipolito Mora in connection with the weekend murder of two members of a rival “self-defense” group in Michoacan, Animal Politico reports that Mora’s faction has turned over its weapons to federal authorities to be analyzed in connection with the killings. The L.A. Times has more on Mora’s arrest, noting that the motive for the murders may have been “an inter-family spat over the love life of Mora’s niece.” The New York Times, meanwhile, reports on the broader significance of the clash between vigilante groups, which may be a sign that the “autodefensas” are fueling insecurity more than fighting it.
  • The AP has more details on the investigation which led Mexican authorities to the hideout of Knights Templar drug kingpin Nazario Moreno, who had been laying low in a hut in the mountains of Michoacan following a December 2010 gunfight in which he was mistakenly declared dead.
  • La Silla Vacia has an interesting infographic listing the 32 Colombian congressmen with alleged links to paramilitary groups in the country, 10 of whom won seats in Sunday’s legislative elections.
  • The wake of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s selection as the next pope saw a flurry of media reports from human rights advocates in Argentina alleging that the pontiff was at worst complicit in and at best willfully ignorant of the abuses committed in the country’s Dirty War.  Since then, however, a number of former dissidents have come forward alleging that Bergoglio’s silence in the face of atrocities was only a useful disguise, which he used to shield them from the Argentine junta.
  • A report on illegal wood trafficking in Nicaragua by journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro of news site Confidencial has received international acclaim. The “Granadilla Mafia,” Chamorro’s 20-minute video investigation, won the King of Spain International Journalism Award for the field of environmental reporting this week. The report --  available to watch here -- casts new light on transnational crime in Central America, detailing a multimillion dollar industry for black market granadilla wood which stretches from the fast disappearing forests of Nicaragua to luxury goods manufacturers in China and Taiwan.

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