Wednesday, March 20, 2013

How will the diaspora vote?

In the 2014 presidential elections, Salvadorans living outside of the country will have the chance to vote from abroad for the first time.   Given the size of the Salvadoran community living in the US, Canada and elsewhere, there could be a noticeable impact on next February's elections.   Already, Salvadoran politicians are campaigning among Salvadoran communities in the US.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs recently looked at these new voters in an article titled
The 2014 Presidential Elections in El Salvador and the Transnational Electorate by Frederick B. Mills.  He comments:

In the past, even without the right to vote abroad, expat Salvadorans played an influential role in the social, political, and economic life of El Salvador, especially since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1992. The agreement transformed a decade long armed struggle into a political contest between the FMLN and the right wing Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA) parties. After two decades of rightist rule by ARENA, a growing movement for change, called el cambio, gripped El Salvador and inspired a significant part of the diaspora. The 2008-2009 campaign for president re-energized progressive transnational Salvadorans to play an even larger role in electoral politics. For example, a pro-FMLN gathering held at a mall in a Langley Park, just outside of Washington, D.C. drew an unprecedented crowd of hundreds of Salvadorans; expats also met in homes and restaurants in a number of metropolitan areas to discuss and support their favorite candidates. Furthermore, some Salvadorans returned to the Central American motherland to vote or to serve as poll watchers. There was no containing the enthusiasm and love of country. This activism undoubtedly influenced friends and families back in El Salvador who could vote in what turn out to be a very close race. A brief look at the demographics involved and the election results of the 2009 presidential election reveals the significant geopolitical potential of the transnational Salvadoran vote. 
In the presidential election of 2009, FMLN candidate Mauricio Funes won by a 3 percent margin (about 70,000 votes, and the 2014 race may also be a close one. In the U.S. alone there are more than 1.8 million Salvadoran residents. [2] Of this number, about 150,000 people are expected to vote, if the mechanisms for registration are funded and put in place on time for the February 2014 presidential election. As more Salvadorans sign up for future elections, the political clout of the diaspora is likely to grow. States with the largest share of Salvadoran immigrants: California (573,956), Texas (222,599), New York (152,130), and the D.C. Metropolitan Area (240,000) are now indispensible stops for the ARENA, FMLN, and UNIDAD party campaigns, all of which have already sent party emissaries to the U.S. to reach out to potential supporters. [3] Though dealing with compatriots as well as old friends, the emissaries have to understand and connect with key figures of the diaspora.

I think it is possible to overstate the impact of the vote from outside the country.   I remember in the 2009 elections that a polling station was set up in El Salvador where Salvadorans living outside of the country could come home for the first time and vote.   Because of the excitement over that race, a big crowd was expected, but only a trickle of people voted there throughout the day.   This time there is a bureaucratic process to navigate to get an identification card and then get to a US polling location if you want to vote in 2014, so we should not assume that the turnout will be enormous, although it is possible.

For another analysis of events shaping next year's election, be sure and read Mike Allison's piece for al Jazeera.    Mike looks at a number of events domestically and internationally which are shaping the three man race for El Salvador's presidency.


1 comment:

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