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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March 2012 Local Elections

CEIBA has worked hard to prepare the population of Santiago Texacuangos, specifically youth, to become more involved in the electoral process. From organizing youth citizen journalism trainings (vozz) to giving our own workshops on the new youth law in 6 communities (see previous blog post), to organizing workshops on how to vote with other NGOs such as CECADE (Training Center for the Promotion of Democracy), we encouraged community members to learn how to vote and participate. In this photo, youth group member Lester from El Sauce is practicing how to correctly vote for a candidate of the legislative assembly. El Salvador underwent electoral reform this year, and for the first time, constituents will choose not only the party to represent them in the assembly but can choose the face of the senator of their choice.  In addition, El Salvador now allows for the first time ever independant candidates. In the previous system, the voter could ONLY mark the FLAG of the party of their choice, and the party got to choose who the senators were. Now, voters get to have some say in who the senator are, instead of letting the party choose for them.  The reform has marginally improved accountability by connecting voters to a name and face instead of letting senators hide behind a flag. HOWEVER it is important to note that voters can only choose senators within ONE political party. This means that the voters cannot choose one sentator from the FMLN and one independant senator, or their vote will be nulled. On election day, thousands of votes were nulled due to this confusion, as voters attempted to election various sentaors from various political parties, which I saw repeatedly as an election observer.

FMLN, GANA, and PCN candidates attend
nearly 400 youth attend the debate
In addition to teaching people HOW to vote, CEIBA organized a historic first ever debate with the municipal candidates in Santiago Texacuangos to inform youth about candidate platforms. The debate was challenging to organize, as we had to change the time and place of the forum to a space considered by all parties to be nuetral. The ARENA party (right wing, currently in power) planned their campaign closing the same time and place we planned our debate in the municipal plaza, and so we moved the debate to the local Christian Highschool, which became a problem as the prinicpal is part of the FMLN (left party, in power in national government but has never held power in

local government).  After intense negotiations, we moved the debate to a public elementary school, Camilo Campos, and moved the debate to Saturday morning at 9am.  All parties agreed on this time, and signed a gentelmen`s agreement to bring no more than 25 youth participants, and agreed to orderly conduct. As nearly 400 youth from political parties, organized communities, and the public poured into the school, ARENA had yet to show up. FMLN candidate Ricardo Villacorta arrived, the young (25 yrs old) PCN candidate Juan Franco was there, and GANA candidate and public highschool principal

Leko, from Joya Grande, presents their youth needs
and only women candidate, Narda de Marin, was also present. We scrambled to mount canopys for some heat relief, run around classroom looking for more benches and seating for the growing crowd, as the minutes passed. I called our contacts in the ARENA party and the ARENA youth group who had come to planning meetings. No answer. I walked up the municipal government office, where the bathroom security guard informed me that no one from ARENA would be attending the debate. They were boycotting? Why? When we had changed ALL the logistics, spent extra money on the

young journalists interview PCN candidate
 event, and changed the place and time for them to be present? for them to boycott? I felt terrible for the youth form communities, who had worked on their platforms to hand to the current mayor, Alberto Estupinian, who demonstrated a lack of interest in the local youth. But 3 candidates were there, ready to engage local youth, and we started the event without ARENA, explaining to the crowd what had happened. The event began with introductory speeches by CONJUVE, the National Board of Youth programming which represented the national goverment , and CECADE, reviewing the correct ways to vote. Video of these speeches available on our youtube channel here. CIPJES, a youth network and CEIBA counterpart, sent representative Celina Guerra who encouraged the candidate to see beyond the political colors and elections and work for youth rights all year round, especially outside of campaigns, and we began the debate. See videos of Celina`s speech and the debate here.  Youth asked candidate tough questions, both written and spoken like ¨How do you think you can plan a tourism project in Joya Grande if it was declated uninhabitable¨ and ¨Wow...I can see that PES and ARENA parties must be really interested in our proposal if they didnt event show up to the debate...but you are here, and I want to know how you plan to engage both girls and boys, because building soccer fields does not create a recreation space for girls...¨ and ¨Why are we spending so much time listening to the candidates speak? When will they take the time to listen to US speak?¨ The open forum closed with a long line of youth who wanted to ask more questions, and was the first ever participatory space of its kind.  Youth from each sector presented their local needs, challenging the candidates to stick to their promises. After the event, participants wrote evaluation of the event on large pieces of butcher paper. Their evaluation of the event included comments such as ¨I did lot like that that the mayor did not attend the event. How Offensive!¨and ¨¨This is one way for the candidate to realize that youth EXIST and for us to express ourselves¨ AND ¨Thanks for listening. We need more spaces like this.¨
This was by far the biggest event CEIBA has ever done, and we hope it happens every electoral year (next municipal elections are in 2015), and hope ARENA shows!

each party provided transportation to the voting center
FMLN helping voters figure out where to vote.
long line at the voting center
Sunday March 11, was election day. I was an official international observer, while CEIBA organized youth journalists came to over the event, interviewing the parties and citizens about their perspectives, noting irregularities and

accusations of illegal acts of inducing the vote by political parties. Youth election interviews can be found at  Santiago Texacuangos has over 11,000 eligible voters, and nearly 70% of the population came out to vote! While I was shocked at this level of high participation, local government officials told me it was a lower than usual turnout, and people are feeling depressed about the situation of the country and apathetic about the

ARENA helping voters figure out where and how to vote
power or will of politicians to actually change the situation.  Nontheless, thousands of people came to vote for senators and the municipal council, and each party provided transportation to the voting center.  The voting center, a local public school, had over 30 stands to vote at, called JRV (junta receptora de voto) which each handle 450 ballots.  There is a 5 person committee, where each party is represented, who look for voting fraud and aim to protect their votes both in the voting process and the counting afterwards. If there is a ¨questionable¨ ballot that has a mysterious X between two parties, or extra markings, the JRV

argue amongst themselves to null the vote, or put in a special ¨to be decided by the Supreme Electoral Tribune¨ box if they cant decide amongst themselves.
This is a heated process where the
guards from each party fight to keep their votes
and if possible null the votes of other parties. I didnt not observe fraud in the elections, although NGO CECADE who observed the local polls noted that the municipal government was open with people inside the building, which is illegal, and that all the political parties instead of explaining how to vote on the ballot, where explaining how to vote for THEIR political party on the ballot, which is a clear violation of the eletoral code,

jonathan interviews an elderly woman about her decision to vote
which stipulates that campaigns must end 4 days before the election.  The Humans Rights Department (PDDH), were also upset they that were not allowed into the building before the elections to monitor the setup and search for fraud, since parties sometimes stuff ballots at 5am during set up.  That interview can be found here.  Despite these irregularities and claims, the elections in Santiago Texacuangos went relatively smoothly, and at around 10pm it became obvious that ARENA would win the elections by a large margin, winning nearly 1,000 more votes than the FMLN. See official election statistics. There was reported violence in other parts of the country, and elections were suspending in nearby San Juan Tepezonte, were shots were fired, and San Lorenzo as well. ARENA by far swept the elections, returning to become the major political power in the country, and winning urban centers of Mejicanos, Soyapango, Apopa, Santo Tomas, Quezaltepeque, Ilopango, and San Martin as well as gaining majority control of the Assembly.  While youth fear this may mean increased militarization and police abuse, it may bring serious changing to the country, and prevent the FMLN from passing laws and reforms under the Funes government, or even reversing current reforms. For example, the FMLN passed budgets for school uniforms and food for every child in the country, but ARENA was against spending and borrowing huge sums of money for education.  Will the program be pulled under the new ARENA legislature? And what does this mean for the 2014 presidential elections? Many speculate that the FMLN lost so many municipalities due to imposing unpopular candidates chosen by the central party command instead of letting local people support their local candidates. In some cases, such as Apopa, the FMLN did not allow a popular female mayor, Luz Estrella, to run for a second term, and imposed an unpopular candidate who lost to ARENA by a landslide.  In others, such as Quezaltepeque, the FMLN government was known to be corrupt and ineffective....whatever the case, this political shift may mean big things for El Salvador, but only time will tell....

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