EspañolSunday, March 9, saw the runoff election for the next president of El Salvador, between Salvador Sánchez Cerén, candidate for the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), and Norman Quijano, for the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA).
In the first round, on February 2, Sánchez Cerén won 48.93 per cent of the vote, with a wide lead over Quijano, who won 38.95 percent. The rest of the vote was divided among three minority political factions. However, due to the lack of a simple majority, a runoff election went ahead.
The runoff then exhibited an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of the country: the number of votes for Quijano, the opposition candidate, rose 42.7 percent compared to the first round, while Sánchez Cerén rose only 14.2 percent. Because of this unusual behavior, the FMLN only managed to edge out the opponent by a little over 6,000 votes.
Due to how close the vote was, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has refused to announce the official winner without first making the final count of the polling stations’ tally sheets. The final count is scheduled to finish on Thursday March 13.
Meanwhile, the morning after election day, ARENA protested in front of the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) denouncing possible fraud and demanding the presence of the FGR during the final count of the vote. Attorney General of El Salvador Luis Martínez urged politicians to remain calm during the final count, and promised the people that the FGR would “guarantee” no “deception attempt from any political party or person” during the process.
During a press conference, ARENA’s National Executive Council (COENA) President Jorge Velado announced that the results the party had observed gave the victory to Norman Quijano.
Further, Velado denounced irregularities in the tally sheets, and he expressed concerns about the alleged impartiality that the TSE would have for the final count — given a perceived favorable attitude towards the FMLN during the election campaign period. He also demanded a vote-for-vote count.
However, according to Eduardo Urquilla, judge of the TSE, the demand is not appropriate in the current situation because “the challenged votes do not exceed the difference between the two candidates.”
The final count of the polling stations’ tally sheets was initially set for Tuesday, March 11, at 8 a.m., but the process was delayed by a demonstration of ARENA supporters near the facilities where the TSE operates.
Then on Tuesday afternoon the counting process was halted on account of ARENA’s decision to withdraw from the process and request the annulment of the March 9 elections, alleging electoral fraud — but without showing concrete evidence. The leader of ARENA, Velado, filed the petition for annulment at the TSE, stating they have witnesses who can attest electoral fraud in two ways: double voting by members of the FMLN, and intentional obstacles so that citizens could not vote.
The TSE, however, dismissed the annulment of the election by national radio and television. Eugenio Chicas, president of the TSE, said: “The TSE rejected the request for a vote for vote count, ballot box by ballot box, in order to make transparent the results of the elections of March 9, due the fact that [the request] does not meet the mechanisms established in the election code legislation.”
Chicas reported that they will continue with the rest of the screening procedure on Wednesday, February 12, at 8 a.m., whether ARENA representatives are present or not at the time of reviewing the records.