Elections in El Salvador 2012

Page 1

Photos and Text: Vinh Prag


Copyright 漏 2012 All rights reserved by the author/photographer. ISBN: 978-9977-925-77-6 (Electronic version) Special thanks to Victor Valle and Julia Hoffmann.

Printed by the UN mandated University for Peace, Ciudad Col贸n, Costa Rica. www.upeace.org 2

For the people of El Salvador



Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.



- Archbishop Oscar Romero


Vinh Prag is a Danish-Vietnamese journalist and photographer who graduated from the Media, Peace and Conflict Studies MA programme at the University for Peace in 2012. He has traveled all his life and has studied at universities in Denmark, Vietnam, Canada and Costa Rica. 6


Free and democratic elections are a recent event in El Salvador. Through his lens, Vinh has captured the historic circumstances very well, from the martyr Archbishop Romero’s citation to the emblematic Rigoberta Menchú’s photo. Indeed, “Peace is generosity” and harmonious coexistence. Vinh has recorded such words with a superior photographic art and thoughtful paragraphs. He verifies how a former warriors’ society delivers “heartfelt smiles and an optimistic atmosphere” and, at the end, helps to build hope, democracy and peace. Elections in El Salvador 2012 is an excellent piece of artistic and academic work. Victor Valle Associate Vice Rector and Professor, University for Peace 7



This inspiring and seemingly democracy-promoting quotation is found on the basis of a large flagpole in San Salvador and seems to fit the current state of the country, especially on Election Day.

the human rights-defender Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero in 1980.

The sentence, though, is attributed to Roberto d’Aubuisson, the founder and first leader of the right-wing party ARENA, and the losing presidential candidate in the 1984 Salvadorean elections.

“Former [National Guard] Major Roberto d’Aubuisson gave the order to assassinate the Archbishop and gave precise instructions to members of his security service, acting as a “death squad”, to organize and supervise the assassination.”

During the civil war, he was a controversial right-wing leader who was widely believed to run ‘death squads’ that killed opposition members, including

The UN Truth Commission on El Salvador wrote on page 131 of their 1993 report:

D’Aubuisson died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 47. He was never tried for any of his alleged crimes. 9

INTRODUCTION Basic facts about EL SALVADOR Area: 21,041 sq km Population: around 6,000,000 in El Salvador, around 3,000,000 in the diaspora, mainly in the USA, displaced mainly because of the civil war Median age: 25.7 years Life expectancy at birth: 73.69 years GDP per capita: US$ 7,600

The 11th of March 2012 was Election Day in El Salvador with 84 parliamentary seats and 262 mayorships to be elected. This was the first time since the reconciliation after the civil war that the right wing, dominated by the ARENA party, was in opposition, after the left-wing FMLN party won the elections in 2009. In a country where the second-longest civil war in Central America only ended two decades ago, and where gang wars, murder and other crimes are pervasive elements of daily life, a visitor is surprised by the heartfelt smiles and optimistic atmosphere that greets you, and even more so on Election Day where Salvadoreans celebrate their democracy. I took part in an International Election Observation Mission from the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica, a nearby neighbour of El Salvador’s with a very different history. During Election Day, I visited several voting centres in and around San Salvador. Enjoy, Vinh Prag.


PREPARATION It is early morning in the capital San Salvador, and young supporters of the FMLN party sit in a truck outside one of the voting centres, waiting for the elections to officially begin.


Elementary schools around San Salvador are preparing for the big day. Meters after meters of lists of local voters cover the outside walls of the schools, and the first citizens are starting to show up to find their names.


The last steps of preparation before the voters arrive. Two monitors from the rivalling parties ARENA and FMLN cooperate with setting up the candidate lists on the official cardboard holders sent to the voting centres by the TSE, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Two policemen await the voters alongside two tired helpers who have been setting up the voting centre since very early in the morning. 13


Voters can look up their names on the voter lists hanging on the outside wall of the voting centres. These are two of several boards holding the popular name Rodriguez. 15



It does not take long to realise that one party in particular has a much larger budget for advertisement than all the others. From billboards and bus stops in the urban landscape over enthusiastic supporters hanging off pickup trucks to flags and banners in slum areas and rich neighbourhoods alike, the red logo of the FMLN party is to be seen everywhere.



In any wellfunctioning democracy, vandalism on election posters occurs.

Not everyone supports the FMLN. Someone has ripped an FMLN sticker and added a word, changing the party slogan from ‘El cambio sigue’ (The change continues) (see next page) to ‘El cambio sigue robando’ (The change keeps stealing). 19


The parties have no problem sharing advertising space.

Several parties cross out their own names on their posters to encourage voters to vote for them by crossing out the party on the ballots.


A long line forms in front of the school, filled with Salvadoreans eager to vote early and get on with their Sunday plans. As they enter the voting centre, both male and female police personnel welcome the voters with a pat-down and a look through their bags. El Salvador not only has a history of political violence and civil war but also, even today, one of the highest murder rates in the world. 22



El Salvador has a literacy rate of between 81% and 84%. The 2012 elections is the first time in the history of Salvadorean democracy that the voters can see on the ballots what the candidates actually look like. Some politicians joke that they have no chance this year when they have to compete against more physically attractive opponents.

Official cardboard voting booths are distributed by the TSE to all voting centres. 24

Two different ballots, two different colours of boxes for two separate elections. One is the municipal elections, the other is the legislative elections. 25


As in many other countries, the voters in El Salvador dip one of their fingers in ink when they have finished the voting procedure. This way the officials can see if someone tries to vote more than once.

Father Toùo is a Catholic priest in one of San Salvador’s rough neighbourhoods and works with reformed gang members. He does not trust that the politicians will bring the change that El Salvador needs but he still believes in the importance of voting. 27


Each voting station has a team of volunteer officials who are supporters of different political parties. During Election Day, both the officials and the monitors wearing vests with logos of different parties seem to get along quite well.




At the end of the day, the official gathering of all the votes happens at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in San Salvador. The press reports on the progress from the colourful carpet until the last vote is counted.


Rigoberta MenchĂş, the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Guatemala, made a special visit to the Crowne Plaza during the final counting of the votes. 32


In the municipal elections, the right-wing party Alianza Republicana Nacionalista (ARENA) won 116 mayorships out of 262. The main rival, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), won 85 on their own and 10 in coalitions with Cambio Democrático (CD) and the Partido de la Esperanza (PES). Concertación Nacional (CN) won 23, and the country’s newest party, Gran Alianza por la Unidad Nacional (GANA), a break-out from ARENA, won 16. San Salvador’s incumbent ARENA mayor, Norman

Quijano, kept his position as the mayor of the capital city. In the legislative elections, ARENA also came out as the big winner. Going from 18 seats to 33 (out of 84), they now had more seats than FMLN (31) for the first time since 2003. The break-off right-wing party GANA held on to 11 seats. No party won an absolute majority which opens up for different coalitions. The right wing can form a majority to pass laws but FMLN can also unite with GANA and some of the smaller parties to overrule any legislation ARENA suggests. 33


REFERENCES Al Jazeera English: Right-wing party leads in Salvadoran polls http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/03/2012311144932197189.html BBC.co.uk: Timeline: El Salvador: A chronology of key events http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1220818.stm CIA World Factbook: El Salvador https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/es.html CISPES: The Results Are In http://cispes.org/elections2012/2012/03/12/the-results-are-in/ CISPES: The Shifting Political Landscapes Of El Salvador’s 2012 Midterm Elections http://www.cispes.org/programs/elections-and-democracy/the-shifting-political-landscapes-of-elsalvador%E2%80%99s-2012-midterm-elections/ ElSalvadorNoticias.net: Elecciones 2012: ARENA gana mayoría de alcaldías a nivel nacional http://www.elsalvadornoticias.net/2012/03/19/elecciones-2012-arena-gana-mayoria-de-alcaldias-a-nivelnacional/ Nobel Peace Prize 1992: Biography http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1992/tum-bio.html# Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/salvador/informes/truth.html Travel.State.Gov: El Salvador: Country Specific Information http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1109.html Trinunal Supremo Electoral de El Salvador: Documentos para elecciones 2012 http://tse.gob.sv/index.php/elecciones-2012/doc-elecciones-2012 35


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