Salvador Sánchez Cerén, the candidate of the FMLN, scored a significant victory with a 10 per centage point win over Norman Quijano of ARENA, but it was not enough to secure a victory in the first round of voting. The final vote percentages were:
Turnout was down in this election. Only 53% of the persons eligible to vote cast ballots yesterday. This was significantly down from the 65% turnout in the 2009 elections which elected Mauricio Funes as the first leftist president in the country. This seems to reflect the growing disenchantment of parts of the population with the political process in the country, leading many people to simply stay at home. Quijano blamed absenteeism today for part of his poor showing.
Tony Saca's poor showing was primarily the result of not having the political machines and organization of ARENA and the FMLN. I grew to appreciate the strength of the party apparatus as I watched it at work from 5AM when poll workers arrived until the votes were counted. The parties mount teams of well-trained election workers, poll watchers, and supervisors who were inside every voting center. Outside of the centers, tents with wireless computers were set up. Any voter could approach the party volunteers with his or her identity card and learn the exact spot where he or she should go to vote. Buses and vans brought people from all around to the polls. Multiple times per day, party members would deliver food and drink to their teams of workers in the polling centers.
These operations of ARENA and the FMLN are impressive. In contrast, while Tony Saca's UNIDAD coalition had poll watchers and election workers in the great majority of polling locations, I saw little sign of the additional organizational apparatus of the dominant parties. Saca simply was not able to turn out the vote.
Quijano had the operation to turn out the vote, but he had little success in capturing more than the 35% of voters which ARENA can dependably count on in every election. There was no indication that Quijano had much appeal to voters in the center of the political spectrum. Those center voters who actually went to the polls appear to have supported the FMLN and a continuation of the policies of the current government.
The much-touted vote from the exterior was a non-event. Only 1909 ballots were received from the 2 million Salvadorans living outside of the country. They voted 61% for the FMLN, and 31% for ARENA.