As the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) presidential candidate Salvador Sánchez Cerén leads in the polls for the upcoming 2014 elections, the Salvadoran right wing has embarked on a new strategy to try to delegitimize the nation’s electoral process. Right-wing attacks against the government’s elections authority, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), are the latest in a series of efforts to set the stage to refuse a likely leftist victory at the ballot box in February.
In their most recent bulletin, the right-wing Salvadoran Foundation for Social and Economic Development (FUSADES) think-tank questioned the administration, transparency, and impartiality of the TSE, the institution that oversees elections in El Salvador. Widely reported in the national media, FUSADES claimed that the “fragile institutionality” of the TSE could create a “crisis” in the case of a close election. “We are warning about weaknesses that put the elections at risk; this study is [intended] to recommend that the action’s of the TSE be watched,” Luis Mario Rodríguez, Director of Political Studies at FUSADES, told the press.
Meanwhile, TSE President Eugenio Chicas has raised concerns about threats to the TSE’s authority from the Supreme Court after the court’s Constitutional Chamber recently accepted a suit against the candidacy of Tony Saca with the right-wing Unity coalition. “The five [presidential] candidates are registered with the TSE and are valid before the TSE,” said Chicas, adding that given the court’s actions, “I’m worried about the legal security of the electoral process and the level of political certainty that the process ought to generate.”
It is telling that conservative institutions like the Supreme Court and FUSADES are raising doubts regarding the TSE now, during the first presidential elections in which the right-wing has not had control of the TSE and with the leftist candidate ahead in the polls. In past elections, when the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party controlled the government and, by extension, the TSE, the Tribunal itself was implicated in extensive and well-documented incidents of electoral fraud (see past election reports from CISPES and US-El Salvador Sister Cities observer missions). Indeed, the current Tribunal’s efforts to bring greater security, accessibility and transparency to the electoral system through programs like Residential Voting, which has tripled the number of voting locations since 2009, and Absentee Voting, which granted Salvadorans abroad the vote, have been met with great resistance from the right-wing parties.
The recent electoral fraud in the Honduran presidential elections, in which the right-wing-controlled Honduran TSE was a key perpetrator, is a sobering reminder of how elections can be manipulated by corrupt government authorities set on maintaining control of the state. In El Salvador, where the left is governing for the first time in history, the local elite and transnational business interests are doing all they can to generate an atmosphere of uncertainty and mistrust to undermine the elections authority, precisely when it is finally working to create democratic, fair, and transparent elections.