Mauricio Funes and running mate Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) declared their electoral victory to the Salvadoran people at 9:30 last night, signaling the end of 20 years of rule by the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). The essence of Funes’ campaign slogan, “hope is born,” could be felt throughout the country yesterday, with massive voter turnout reported from the metropolis of San Salvador to rural villages in the outlying departments.
With ARENA candidate Rodrigo Ávila conceding defeat late Sunday night, Funes becomes the first leftist head of state in El Salvador’s history. The FMLN entered electoral politics in 1994, having signed Peace Accords two years earlier to end a 12-year civil war with the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government.
Over 60 representatives of the U.S.-based Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) served as accredited international observers for the historic vote. Observers reported an energized and hopeful electorate arriving at the polls on election day, but also noted obstacles to a truly transparent electoral process put in place by the governing ARENA party.
Multiple reports of foreigners covertly bussed in and housed in government buildings on the night before the election were made to international observers, including those affiliated with the Organization of American States (OAS). Observers also investigated reports of vote-buying and falsified voter cards.
International observers representing various delegations plan to release their findings to the media and to El Salvador’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) throughout the coming week. President-elect Funes has vowed to improve the electoral system once in office by addressing unresolved problems highlighted by a 2008 OAS audit and providing for absentee voting by Salvadorans living in other countries.
Rare among observer missions, CISPES delegates, spread through different municipalities of the country, were stationed at single polling places for the entirety of election day. Observers witnessed the entire voting process, from the set-up of the voting tables and opening of the voting centers all the way until the last vote was tallied.