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Free, Fair and Historic: Witnessing the Left's Win In El Salvador

Democratic elections have been a long time coming in El Salvador, a country with a history of coups and military dictatorships.

The flag of the FMLN, a leftist party in El Salvador.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


The recent presidential elections in El Salvador, which resulted in an initial win for the leftist candidate, were historic.

We recently returned from the country, where we were credentialed observers for the first round of the 2014 presidential elections. Our delegation was organized by the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), and included representatives from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and other organizations. Our team of approximately 70 election observers arrived in San Salvador during the week prior to the election, and we met with government officials, representatives of social movements, party representatives, the U.S. Embassy, and the electoral tribunal to discuss the issues that confronted the El Salvadoran people in this election.

In order to win the presidential election in the first round of voting, a candidate must take 50% plus one of the votes. Early polling indicated that the leftist candidate, Sanchez Cerén of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), would be close to 50%, and his supporters were hoping for a victory in the first round. At the end of the day, Cerén took 49% of the vote, Norman Quijano of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) received 39% of the vote, and Tony Saca of the UNIDAD coalition received 11%. A second round has now been called, to be held on March 9th.

2014 Election Observations

On February 2nd, which was Election Day, we split up into seven teams to monitor polling locations located in and around San Salvador, the capital. We selected dozens of monitoring sites based on size and location. We monitored the largest voting stations in the country representing various income ranges and party alliances.

At the end of the day, CISPES reported that these were the most observed, transparent, and impartial elections ever witnessed in El Salvador. They noted that these elections were historic for the high degree of transparency, and they applauded the electoral reforms that have been implemented, such as the residential voting system that created more than 1,593 voting centers -- allowing for shorter waiting times and increased accessibility for voters with disabilities. There were some irregularities documented, such as the mayors of Ayutuxtepeque, Mejicanos and Antiguo Cuscatlán campaigning inside voting center and the lack of sufficient UNIDAD representatives at the Voting Reception Boards in various voting centers, which caused their delayed openings. But these incidents did not significantly impact election results.

2014 Presidential Election Context

Free and fair democratic elections have been a long time coming in El Salvador. While the small Central American country achieved independence in 1821, the post-colonial period mirrored many other Latin American states. The economic oligarchy, embedded in the coffee industry, replaced the Spanish crown while U.S. interventionism stunted democratic growth. In the 20th century, labor and communist organizing mounted under the shadow of a series of military dictatorships, punctuated by coups, which ruled the country. In the face of state repression and economic misery during the 1970s, student and labor organizing transitioned into armed political-military organizations. Archbishop Oscar Romero represented the Liberation Theology movement in the Catholic archdioceses, which emphasized freedom from political, social and material oppression.

In 1980, a military junta was in power, which worked with paramilitaries to repress political organizing. In January of that year, the five major militant organizations united to form the FMLN-- The Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, named for a 1920s and 30s community party leader. On March 24th of the same year Archbishop Romero was assassinated, fueling the conflict. Robert D'Aubuisson, who went on to found the ARENA party, is considered the intellectual author of the assassination.

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