SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador – More than two weeks after the opposing party’s candidate was ruled the winner of the Salvadoran presidential election, the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) has finally conceded defeat.
Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the ruling center-left Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) was ruled the official winner of this year’s presidential election with 50.11% of the vote while Norman Noel Quijano González, ARENA’s candidate and former mayor of the capital of San Salvador, received 49.89%.
According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the highest electoral authority in El Salvador, and its President, Eugenio Chicas, Sánchez Cerén won 1,494,144 votes while Quijano González won 1,487,510, meaning the FMLN candidate won the surprisingly highly-contested election by a mere 6,634 votes.
Immediate allegations of fraud and corruption were made by ARENA against the FMLN candidate and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, who then decided to scrutinize 100% of the votes from some 10,400 ballot boxes. According to Quijano González, the FMLN “double-voted,” which led to some 20,000 extra votes going in favor of the ruling party’s administration.
Amid a heated and tense post-election period, ARENA then asked for a full recount. This was not possible because El Salvador’s Electoral Code says that a recount can only happen when the number of ballots deemed void or illegal exceeds the number of votes that separate the two candidates, and in this case, it did not.
The final recourse was asking the Attorney General and Supreme Court of Justice to officially annul the entire election, and when that wish was not granted, ARENA finally had no choice but to concede that Sánchez Cerén is the rightful winner.
“As further evidence of our commitment to abide by lawful and democratic rules of law, we will respect the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Court of Justice,” read a statement released by the party.
“We will, however, remain the ‘vigilantes’ of Salvadoran society and if, at any time, the government does not respect the constitution or the laws of our nation and dares to violate our institutionalized system of democracy or national sovereignty, we will be there. However, we will also be there first to applaud the government’s success, if there are any.”
Regardless, the party still could not resist taking a parting shot, or two, at the ruling FMLN party.
“We make this decision and recognize the judgment of the Supreme Court of Justice despite the unequal and unjust conditions we faced during the electoral campaign and the fact that our evidence was not assessed in the respective institutions.”
Although it now officially recognizes Sánchez Cerén as the new President of El Salvador, it still “does not recognize the FMLN’s legitimacy” as they took power, and will continue to hold on to power through a “flawed, unjust and untransparent process,” according to Ernesto Muyshondt, the second-in-command of ARENA’s National Council.
“I cannot congratulate the opposing party on this occasion,” he continued, “because it is one thing to recognize something as legally binding and another to congratulate.” Muyshondt added that he urges the Attorney General to still continue investigating the fraud he alleges, regardless of the matter having been put to rest.
“We believe in democracy and the constitutional order of our country. Therefore, we will remain loyal opposition to the ruling party in a democratic, serious, intelligent and honest way, and will always put the interests of El Salvador first,” the party said.
“We sincerely thank the nearly one-and-a-half million people for their votes and their trust that they placed in us in considering our party the representatives of their democratic principles and values. We also thank everyone in our entire party structure for their tireless work and especially members of civil society for their help and support,” the statement concluded.
Indeed, Sánchez Cerén and his FMLN party have been cleared of any wrongdoing internally by the Attorney General, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Supreme Court of Justice.
Internationally, ARENA’s accusations of fraud were rebuffed by the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Interamerican Union of Electoral Organisms (UNIORE), both of which rejected any allegations of electoral fraud in El Salvador and rated the nation’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal as “exemplary.”
Roberto D’Aubuisson, a current Deputy in the Legislative Assembly and son of the ARENA founder of the same name, accepted defeat and repeated words he uttered last week. “Now that the legal recourses have been exhausted, then we should work to make sure that they are in place for the future,” D’Aubuisson said, “and we must also work on focusing as much as we can on the legislative and mayoral elections of 2015.”
The words of concession are in stark contrast to statements made shortly after the first results were in by Quijano González, who warned that the opposition will “fight, even with our lives if it is necessary.” He even said that the Salvadoran army “could be called upon to play a role as they are ready to make democracy in El Salvador.”
The statements were ominous and frankly, reckless, given the violent and repressive history of the Salvadoran army and the role it played during the country’s Civil War (1979-1992), which left over 80,000 people dead and 1.3 million displaced. The same army was found to be responsible for just under 95% of the murders committed during the conflict.
The President-Elect fought alongside other FMLN guerrillas during the Civil War before it laid down their weapons and transformed into a political party in 1992 through the Chapultepec Peace Accords.
Sánchez Cerén, the current Vice-President to constitutionally-term-limited leader Mauricio Funes Cartagena, is set to take office on the first of June. His running mate and Vice-President-elect is Óscar Ortiz, the mayor of Santa Tecla who finished 2nd in the FMLN’s presidential primary in 2004.
He is expected to further Funes Cartagena’s moderate center-left policies of social democracy.
The winning candidate was glad that he won, but also offered reconciliatory words to his ARENA opponent. “I say to my adversary and to his political party that my administration will welcome them with open arms, so that together we can build a new country.”