Sunday, January 18, 2009


Municipal and legislative elections occupied everyone in El Salvador today. It's an interesting process and very different from U.S. elections. All liquor sales and liquor service in restaurants are suspended for three days - the day before, election day, and the day after. Everyone who wants to vote has to have a national identity card, the D.U.I., and has to take it to the polling place. Because it costs money to change your address and get a new D.U.I., many Salvadorans are voting from old addresses, often in different cities from the one they live in. Polling places are a lot less frequent here: in San Salvador, a city of 1.6 million people, there were about 16 polling places, and your polling place is assigned not by the district you live in, but by your last name - so all the "C"s go to one location and all the "G"s to another. Once there, you may wait for hours in a very long line, but the polls close at 5:15, whether voters are still waiting or not. It didn't seem that many people were left outside, so I think the Electoral Tribunal has the numbers figured out.

Once in the election center where observers from each party and international observers kept close watch over the process, voters traded their DUI for two election cards, one for the legislative deputy and one for the Mayor of the municipality (I should explain that the municipalities are the equivalent of counties, and the Mayors serve all the smaller communities in the municipality as well as the central town). Each card showed no names, only the banners of the six parties (in color: ARENA is red, white and blue; the FMLN is red; the PDC is blue, and so on). You mark your choice (in a cardboard voting booth) by drawing a big X over the banner of the party you want to vote for. (In an earlier post, I had thought the Xs on the banners on lampposts were done by opposing parties - I got that wrong). Then you deposit your ballots, one in the box for deputies, one in the box for Mayors. You get indelible ink on your finger and your DUI is returned.

When the voting closed, the TV stations (which have been all day, full time on the elections) showed the process of counting ballots: a representative of each party gathered around a table with a tabulator. The ballots were taken out one by one in everyone's view, the tabulator announcing who the vote was for and handing the ballot to the representative of that party. Then the party representatives counted out loud the votes for their party as everyone else watched. The votes were recounted and tabulated. This all happened with great transparency and pretty good speed, so that election results were available by 9 PM.

I'll try and summarize the results after I see tomorrow's paper, but the big news tonight was that ARENA's candidate for Alcalde (Mayor) of San Salvador - Norman Quijano, who promises cleanness, order and security - won, a big loss for the FMLN and for Violeta Menjivar, the current Mayor. And now there are celebrations - music and fireworks and just maybe the odd bit of drinking - going on in our neighborhood. It may be hard to sleep tonight.

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