ARENA managed to make serious inroads with a campaign warning that the leftists might take the country on the course of Venezuela.
Roy Campos, president of the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm, said Quijano’s ads comparing the FMLN to Venezuela‘s leftist leaders, protests and economic scarcity may have worked, creating a situation where some voters “felt El Salvador was in danger.”
“Venezuela was an important factor,” Campos said.
Marcos Rodriguez of the nonprofit civic group Citizens’ Movement said, “The public reacted to a scare campaign ... There was a recovery in the conservative vote, in the right-wing vote.”
Quijano‘s support in the business sector may have also played a role. Some stores closed on election day and some restaurants offered free food to voters, which could have led to a higher turnout of more affluent voters.
Mr. Quijano, the candidate of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance, or Arena, laced his victory speech with menace, telling his supporters that the party was on “a war footing” and that “the armed forces are watching the fraud that is being concocted.”...
The mention of the armed forces rang alarm bells for many Salvadorans, who have succeeded in establishing a working democracy since the 1992 peace accords ended a 12-year civil war. Arena’s origins lie in the far-right death squads linked to the military that were formed during the civil war to eliminate political opponents. As a political party that later spent two decades in power, it then distanced itself from those roots.France24 noted the response from Sánchez Cerén:
In an apparent response to the ominous warning, Ceren said on Twitter: “We are sure the Armed Forces will respect its commander in chief and above else the democratic institutions of El Salvador.
Sanchez Ceren, who has been the country’s vice-president since 2009, expressed confidence that the recount would confirm him as El Salvador’s president elect.
As tensions mounted over the election results, international observers urged both sides from refrain from claiming victory or casting doubt over the legitimacy of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.Looking at the gains ARENA made in the second round, the Christian Science Monitor shared comments from Mike Allison:
The tight race came as a surprise to most election observers, as polls had predicted a comfortable victory for Sánchez-Cerén, who won the first round by 10 percentage points. Mike Allison, a Central America expert at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, pointed out that both parties drew more voters to the polls in the second round, but that ARENA was able to add more than 400,000 voters to its initial rank of supporters.
“The FMLN might have peaked,” Mr. Allison says.On his own blog, in a post titled They Don't Work For You Anymore, Allison quoted Christine Wade who said::
And while the drama of the day and uncertainty of the evening may have helped to fuel Quijano’s rhetoric, this much is clear: defending ARENA (or any party) against alleged voter fraud is not within the military’s purview. Let’s hope that cooler heads within the party prevail within the coming hours and days. Until then, perhaps it bears reminding Sr. Quijano of the new rules of the game: the military doesn’t work for you anymore.Read Mike's Central American Politics blog for more good analysis of the election.
The Wall Street Journal noted that the good reputation of the TSE (comments from ARENA notwithstanding) could help defuse any post election tensions:
Other tight election results in Latin American nations such as Venezuela produced large waves of demonstrations and distrust of the electoral watchdogs, and there were some signs that this could happen in El Salvador as well.
On Monday, a small group of Mr. Quijano's supporters protested in front of the attorney general's office to demand it verify the recount and assure the public that no fraud occurred.
The election authority in El Salvador, however, doesn't face the same level of distrust that is seen in other countries in Latin America, something that may help defuse fears of fraud among voters, said Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank. "The system works and is transparent so cooler heads will eventually prevail," he said.At BlouinNews, there was some speculation about what comes next:
And the narrow margin virtually assures a divided government, where Céren has to contend with a National Assembly controlled by the opposition. No sweeping nationalization moves of the sort that have historically spooked Western investors should be anticipated, at least not in the short term. But carnivalesque political unrest? We almost certainly will get more of that.An excellent essay by Kari Mariska Pries looks at the election and its aftermath in the context of the grave public security problems in the country. Pries writes:
Further complicating the situation is the level to which security plays a role in El Salvador’s political process. Quijano may have been the first to call on the military to defend the election victory of his party but both sides are guilty of politicising security operations during the last months of the election campaign; out-going FMLN president Mauricio Funes deployed soldiers to the streets as recently as this last week in an attempt to bolster security or win security votes as alleged by political opponents. The temptation to turn to military solutions during political problems is an ever-present issue in El Salvador. For decades the country has seen the military at the centre of its political system – either as direct or indirect government actors. A key component of the 1992 peace accords was the de-politicisation of the military and the removal of its overt influence from government institutions and public security structures like the police. To place the military alongside police in establishing greater security in El Salvador has caused consternation over the last decade; to make a call such as Quijano did on Sunday, for the military to stand by for intervention, should ring alarm bells.Read the rest of Pries' essay here.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs wrote to reject claims by ARENA that the election process was tainted by fraud:
There are absolutely no indications from any credible sources that fraud of any kind took place. These elections, like the first round, were described by international observers as orderly, transparent, and clean. Only far right extremists have been raising unfounded allegations of vote fraud, but this has been done as part of a premeditated transnational campaign to delegitimate an electoral victory by the FMLN. There is no empirical evidence of irregularities rising to the level of an electoral fraud and the TSE has urged both parties to await a final determination by the tribunal which is expected to come by the end of the week.
However, it does give us a glimpse of ARENA’s political strategy over the coming years. They’ve set the stage to launch a destabilization campaign against the incoming FMLN government. Last night Quijano fired the opening shots by not only questioning the vote count, but even the TSE as an institution. He accused it of selling out the nation and seeking to implement a Venezuela-like dictatorship. He charged the TSE with “hatching fraud” “Chavista style.”Much is left to be written on this story. I feel comfortable saying that ARENA has no plans to accept a decision by the TSE declaring Salvador Sanchez Ceren the winner, no matter how many independent persons and organizations indicate that the process produced an accurate result.