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El Salvador’s No-Results Election Makes Mockery of US Aid

By: Roger Noriega - Mar 7, 2015, 5:31 am

EspañolLast September, the Obama administration gave a US$277 million grant to the leftist government of El Salvador, in recognition of its commitment, inter alia, to “political rights, civil liberties, freedom of information, government effectiveness, rule of law, and control of corruption.”

Last Sunday, that same government conducted botched congressional and municipal elections, leaving Salvadorans in the dark about who won the country’s 84 Legislative Assembly seats and most of the 262 mayoral posts.

Despite the lack of official data, the two major parties, the ruling Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the opposition Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) have declared that their internal tallies show favorable results for their slate of candidates. Naturally, opposition activists assume the ruling party is committing fraud to hold on to a working majority in the assembly, casting doubt on the governability of the country.

Five days after 2.6 million Salvadorans went to the polls, the electoral authorities have yet to release any official results. Julio Olivo, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), acknowledged that a “glitch” had prevented the release of preliminary results of the election, warning all parties and candidates that no one could be declared a winner until the issue is resolved. “We have had a problem disclosing [the data] and we must admit that to the nation,” Olivo commented during a press conference.

The electoral authorities have blamed the company responsible for the transmission of data, accusing it of incompetence and even “sabotage.” On Thursday, Olivo said he intended to sue the firm, saying, “A bunch of people are going to fall.” On the same day, the manual vote count was halted when about 30 electoral workers came down with “food poisoning.”

These failures were foretold. Opposition parties have noted that the problems with the vote tally were exposed during the two mock elections conducted by the TSE a few days before the election. In the simulation of data transmission prior to the election, materials and equipment failed to reach 19 municipalities of the capital city of San Salvador, and only half of the 125,000 test ballots were uploaded into the system. Even after these failed tests, TSE chief Olivo expressed confidence in his team and contractors, saying, “There is great technology and IT talent. Computer wizards are working on this, cooperating with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.”

Now that the electoral results have still not been published, ARENA has expressed concern about the failures caused by the transmission of data and demanded that the TSE “correct this error and provide information to the public immediately.”

The September grant by the US Millennium Challenge Corporation was supposed to be conditioned on El Salvador’s above average performance on specific criteria, measuring “economic freedom, investing in people, and ruling justly.” Instead, it was apparent at the time that the Obama administration dispensed with an objective appraisal of the country’s economic performance in order to curry favor with the leftist FMLN government.  Since taking office last June, FMLN president (and former Marxist guerrilla commander) Salvador Sánchez Cerén has failed to jumpstart the weakest economy in Central America (growing at just 2.2 percent). Worse yet, the country’s murder rate rose by nearly 60 percent in the last year.

The failure of Sunday’s elections casts more doubt on the ability or willingness of the FMLN government to govern justly or effectively.

This article first appeared with the American Enterprise Institute.