Viewing cable 08SANSALVADOR1158

08SANSALVADOR11582008-10-03 21:42:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy San Salvador

DE RUEHSN #1158/01 2772142
P 032142Z OCT 08
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶1. (SBU) Summary: On January 18, 2009, El Salvador will hold 
elections for its 84 Legislative Assembly seats, 20 Central 
American Parliament (PARLACEN) deputies, and 262 
municipalities (262 mayors, each with its corresponding 
municipal council, the size of which varies by population). 
Presidential elections are scheduled for March 15, 2009.  The 
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) oversees the elections, and 
is responsible for managing all aspects of the process, 
including the three levels of management under its authority. 
 The 2009 elections are likely to be hotly contested, and as 
such, have the potential to spark social unrest. 
Principal issues of concern are: 
- TSE composition 
- TSE procedural changes to its decision-making process 
- Electoral Roll inconsistencies 
- Unregulated private campaign financing 
- Removal of the requirement of polling station officials to 
sign each ballot 
Post appreciates the National Democratic Institute's (NDI's) 
program to build credibility in the vote counting, and 
recommends that international election observers are present 
to help assure that the elections proceed smoothly.  End 
Basic Facts 
¶2. (U) As set forth in Article 154 of the Constitution, 
Salvadoran presidential elections take place every five 
years.  A president is limited to a single five-year term. 
Legislative and municipal elections occur every three years, 
as set by Articles 124 and 202 of the Constitution.  As a 
result, the two sets of elections overlap every 15 years, and 
2009 is one of the overlap years. 
¶3. (U) There are five functioning political parties in El 
Salvador.  Two dominate the political spectrum: the 
(center-right, pro-U.S.) Nationalist Republican Alliance 
(ARENA) and the (left-wing) Farabundo Marti Liberation Front 
(FMLN).  The other three are the (right-wing) Party of 
National Conciliation (PCN), the (centrist) Christian 
Democratic Party (PDC), and (center-left) Democratic Change 
(CD).  Article 190 of the Electoral Code requires each 
political party to receive at least three percent of the vote 
in an election (or three percent per party if part of a 
coalition) to continue to function as a party.  Despite the 
failure of the PDC and PCN to meet those requisite 
percentages in the 2004 presidential election, the TSE 
decided to allow the parties to continue to operate. 
¶4. (SBU) The Electoral Code provides the basis for election 
guidelines in El Salvador, establishing the numbers of seats, 
the breakdown of representation, and rules of oversight of 
the electoral process.  The Electoral Code establishes that 
the Legislative Assembly is comprised of 84 deputies, divided 
proportionally amongst the 14 Departments based on population 
data from the 1992 census.  Each Department has a minimum of 
three deputies.  A census was completed in 2007, but in order 
to adjust the distribution of deputies, the Legislative 
Assembly must approve changes to the Electoral Code.  Neither 
ARENA nor the FMLN, the two leading political parties, has 
supported this change.  Based on the 1992 data, the electoral 
districts break down as follows: 
San Salvador - 25 deputies 
Santa Ana - 7 deputies 
San Miguel - 6 deputies 
La Libertad - 8 deputies 
Sonsonate - 6 deputies 
Usulutan - 5 deputies 
Ahuachapan - 4 deputies 
La Paz - 4 deputies 
La Union - 4 deputies 
Cuscatlan - 3 deputies 
Chalatenango - 3 deputies 
Morazan - 3 deputies 
San Vicente - 3 deputies 
Cabanas - 3 deputies 
¶5. (SBU) Voters do not vote for candidates in El Salvador; 
they vote for parties.  The presidential and municipal 
elections are decided by simple majority votes.  For each 
municipality, the winning party secures the position of mayor 
along with the entire municipal council (Comment: The 
all-or-nothing approach to municipalities is an issue of 
contention in El Salvador, as uncontested dominance by any 
single political entity can hinder governmental 
effectiveness. End Comment).  Each municipality has a mayor, 
a "sindico" (roughly the equivalent of a city attorney or 
legal advisor), and between two and ten council members, 
based on the population of the municipality. 
¶6. (U) Legislative elections are require parties to develop 
rank-order lists for each geographic Department.  The number 
of valid votes is divided by the number of available seats in 
each Department to determine the electoral quotient.  The 
number of valid votes that each party has received is divided 
by the electoral quotient to determine the number of seats 
that party has won.  This calculation will generate remainder 
figures.  These remainders are used to determine which party 
fills any leftover seats.  If, at the end of this process, 
there is one unfilled seat, it is awarded to the party with 
the largest remainder.  If there are two leftover seats, the 
second one goes to the party with the next highest remainder. 
 This system generally favors smaller parties, particularly 
in the smaller Departments.  (Note: The following is an 
example to illustrate this system.  Assume that there are 450 
valid votes in a Department, and three available seats.  The 
electoral quotient is 450/3, or 150.  Party A has received 
220 votes, Party B has received 150 votes, and Party C has 
received 80 votes.  Party A gets one seat (220/150 = 1, 
remainder 70) and Party B gets one seat (150/150 = 1, no 
remainder).  Party C did not receive enough votes to be 
immediately awarded a seat (80/150 = 0, remainder 80), so 
there is one leftover seat.  However, Party C has the highest 
remainder (80 to Party A's 70), so it is awarded the seat. 
End Note.) 
Governing Bodies 
¶7. (U) The electoral process is governed by a hierarchical 
group of four governing bodies: The Supreme Electoral 
Tribunal (TSE), Juntas Electorales Departamentales (JEDs), or 
Departmental Electoral Boards, Juntas Electorales Municipales 
(JEMs), or Municipal Electoral Boards, and Juntas Receptoras 
de Votos (JRVs), or polling station officials. 
¶8. (U) The TSE oversees all aspects of the electoral process. 
 It develops the electoral calendar, maintains the voter 
registry, manages the logistics of the elections, and 
monitors for any violations of voters' rights.  It is also 
responsible for distributing public campaign funding to the 
political parties.  The TSE is comprised of five judges.  The 
Legislative Assembly selects three judges from lists provided 
by the three parties that earned the most votes in the 
preceding presidential election.  They elect the remaining 
two from the Supreme Court.  The candidates need a 2/3 
Legislative Assembly vote to win.  There are also five 
alternate judges, selected in the same manner. 
¶9. (SBU) The group that took over the TSE in 2004 changed the 
way the body operates.  Traditionally, any electoral changes 
required votes from 4 of 5 TSE members to pass.  However, TSE 
President Walter Rene Araujo Morales (ARENA), with the 
support of PCN representative Julio Moreno Ninos and Supreme 
Court Justice Mario Alberto Salamanca Burgos, chose to 
reinterpret the Electoral Code, which states that changes 
require a "qualified majority."  With this shift, ARENA and 
its allies took full control of the TSE, to the great 
objection of the two other TSE members.  One immediate 
example of the post-2004 power wielded by the TSE was its 
decision to not dissolve the two political parties that 
failed to receive the required minimum percentages of the 
2004 presidential vote to continue to function. 
¶10. (U) There are 14 Department Electoral Boards (one per 
Department), which are overseen by the TSE.  These bodies 
report election results to the TSE, supervise and issue 
ballot boxes to the Municipal Electoral Boards, and report to 
the TSE any disturbances in the electoral process.  Each 
board consists of five members, one from each major political 
party.  According to the electoral code, the TSE selects a 
member from lists submitted by each of the four parties that 
received the largest number of votes during the most recent 
election, and then the fifth is chosen at random by the TSE 
from the remaining parties (Note: As there are now only five 
functioning political parties, each board has one member from 
each party. End Note).  There are also five alternates on 
each board, selected in the same fashion as the principals. 
¶11. (U) There are 262 Municipal Electoral Boards (one per 
municipality), which supervise the polling stations within 
their municipalities.  Their chief duties involve monitoring 
the actions of the polling station officials, ensuring that 
the electoral process functions unencumbered within the areas 
under their jurisdiction, and reporting any problems in the 
electoral process to the TSE and Department Electoral Boards. 
 Each board has five members (one per party) and five 
alternates, selected in the same manner as the Department 
Electoral Boards. 
¶12. (SBU) Thirty days prior to the election, the TSE names 
the polling station officials (JRVs) through the same method 
used to select the members of the electoral boards.  The 
JRVs, under the authority of the Municipal Electoral Boards, 
administer the ballots at the polling stations.  Once the 
polls close, the JRVs are responsible for counting and 
recording the votes.  They are required to transmit reports 
to the TSE and Department Electoral Board detailing the total 
numbers of ballots received, valid votes for each party or 
coalition, annulled votes, abstentions, challenged votes, and 
unused ballots, as well as details about any irregularities 
observed during the voting process. 
Campaign Financing 
¶13. (SBU) Private campaign financing is not regulated.  The 
TSE delivers public campaign financing to each party involved 
in an electoral campaign based on the numbers of votes 
received by each party in the preceding election.  The amount 
of public financing for each party is generally not publicly 
announced; while there are no laws prohibiting public 
disclosure, there are also no laws requiring it.  However, 
the newspaper La Prensa Grafica obtained and published the 
amounts tabbed for each party for the 2009 elections.  The 
five parties will reportedly split a pool $17.1 million 
(ARENA will get $8.35 million, the FMLN $6.18 million, and 
the remainder will be divided among the three smaller 
The Voting Process 
¶14. (SBU) Salvadoran citizens who have a Unique Document of 
Identification (DUI) and appear on the Electoral Register are 
eligible to vote.  The Electoral Register is a data set drawn 
directly from the national list of DUIs.  The DUI contains a 
fingerprint and picture, and currently costs $10.31.  A 
citizen must be 18 years of age to obtain a DUI, and must 
have obtained his/her DUI by July 21, 2008 in order to be 
included on the Electoral Register.  Salvadorans who turn 18 
between July 21, 2008 and the date of the election may be 
included on the register, but they must have pre-registered 
by the July 21 cutoff date.  Salvadorans can verify their 
data online or at their local municipal offices.  An NGO 
Electoral Observer, The Social Initiative for Democracy 
(ISD), reports that of the more than 130,000 people who will 
turn 18 between July 21, 2008 and March 15, 2009, only 20,469 
(16 percent) pre-registered for their DUI. 
¶15. (SBU) The TSE publishes the list of registered voters, 
along with their corresponding polling stations, in three 
places: the newspaper, online, and on machines placed in 
malls around the country.  On election day, registered voters 
must vote at the polling station closest to the address on 
their DUI.  Upon arrival at the polling station, officials 
check the voters' names against the Electoral Register, 
verify their DUIs, and distribute ballots.  Voters then fill 
out their ballots and deposit them into ballot boxes.  Each 
voter signs or gives a fingerprint to affirm that they have 
voted, and subsequently has his/her thumb stained with ink. 
Political parties are allowed to deploy vigilantes, or 
attendants, to the polling stations to provide assistance to 
the voters.  Preliminary results are generally available 
within hours of the closing of polls. 
¶16. (SBU) NDI is implementing a program to provide technical 
assistance to a domestic monitoring group.  The program will 
compile an election day quick count to detect and deter 
irregularities, promote public confidence in the election, 
and provide validation for the election results.  In 
addition, NDI is partnering with existing civil society 
networks to monitor pre-election activities such as campaign 
¶17. (SBU) There has been one procedural change since the last 
election that has caused some controversy.  In the past, the 
President and Secretary of each JRV were required to sign 
each ballot cast (before it was filled out by the voter) to 
assure its legitimacy.  The TSE removed this requirement in 
the interest of streamlining the voting process.  The public 
is concerned that this will open the door to electoral fraud. 
 The FMLN has also expressed concerns about this change. 
However, each JRV contains a member of each political party, 
and all are required to observe the entire voting process and 
subsequently affirm the numbers of votes in their reports to 
the TSE and Department Electoral Boards. 
¶18. (SBU) Comment: Transparency and legitimacy are of the 
utmost importance to the 2009 elections.  The 2009 elections 
have the potential to be very close races, and as such, have 
explosive potential.  The losing party is likely to contest 
the results of any close election.  Even if they do not 
result in abuses of the system, a decision like the TSE's 
administrative change to its decision-making process or its 
procedural change to forego JRV signatures on ballots could 
serve as the basis for a post-election protest and, 
potentially, as a spark for violence.  The presence of 
credible domestic and international observers, along with 
clear messages to both main parties, will be essential in 
order to minimize the possibility of violence.  End Comment. 
TSE Electoral Calendar 
¶19. (SBU) On September 1, 2008, the TSE released the official 
election calendar, as detailed below. 
September 1, 2008      Call for the elections of President 
                       and Vice President, PARLACEN 
                       deputies, Legislative Assembly 
                       deputies, and Municipal Council 
September 18, 2008     Registration period begins for 
                       candidates for President, Vice 
                       President, and the Legislative 
September 18, 2008     Registration period begins for 
                       coalition pacts for elections of 
                       PARLACEN deputies, Legislative 
                       Assembly deputies, and Municipal 
September 23, 2008     Registration period begins for 
                       candidates for Municipal Council 
October 9, 2008        The National Register of Natural 
                       Persons (RNPN) transmits a list to 
                       the TSE of all Salvadorans 
                       registered with a DUI.  The TSE will 
                       then make each citizen's information 
                       available to him/her so that each 
                       person can reconcile any data 
October 26, 2008       Registration period ends for 
                       coalition pacts for elections of 
                       PARLACEN deputies, Legislative 
                       Assembly deputies, and Municipal 
November 14, 2008      Presidential electoral campaigns 
November 17, 2008      Legislative electoral campaigns 
November 18, 2008      Electoral Roll closes (90 days 
                       before elections) 
December 17, 2008      Municipal electoral campaigns begin 
January 13, 2009       Registration periodends for 
                       candidates for Prsident and Vice 
January 14, 2009       Registration period endsfor 
                       candidates for Legisltive Assembly 
                       and Municipl Council positions 
January 14, 2009       Legislative and municipal electoral 
                      campaigns end 
January 18, 2009       Election day - PARLACEN deputies, 
                       Legislative Assembly deputies, and 
                       Municipal Council positions 
January 19, 2009       First day of election results 
February 9, 2009       Deadline for election results 
March 11, 2009         Presidential electoral campaigns 
March 15, 2009         Election day - President and Vice 
April 19, 2009         Presidential Runoff (if necessary) 
May 1, 2009            Swearing in of Legislative Assembly 
                       and Municipal Council deputies 
June 1, 2009           Inauguration Day for the new