El Salvador opposition requests repeat election for congress after irregularities in vote count

By Thomson Reuters Feb 19, 2024 | 5:57 PM

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) – Opposition parties in El Salvador on Monday asked the country’s election authority to void the results of congressional elections that took place in early February and re-do the vote after a hand count of ballots revealed several irregularities.

On Sunday, Feb. 4, President Nayib Bukele handily won a second term despite a constitutional ban on immediate re-election, when Salvadorans cast their ballots for president and Congress.

Despite Bukele claiming his New Ideas party had won 58 out of 60 seats, in the days that followed El Salvador’s electoral body began a hand count of the vote after declaring a failure in the voting system following numerous reports of irregularities, glitches, and power and internet outages.

The hand count has since finished and electoral authorities have confirmed Bukele’s whopping win with almost 85% of the vote.

The body will announce final results for congress Monday night, with Bukele’s New Idea’s party holding onto its supermajority with 54 seats, consolidating his control over the country’s political system.

A supermajority in Congress would give Bukele unprecedented power, including allowing him to change the country’s constitution and continue to shelve constitutional rights in his wildly popular crackdown on the country’s gangs, which has drawn criticisms from rights groups.

The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and National Concertion parties will each hold two seats and the Christian Democratic and VAMOS parties will hold one seat a piece.

On Monday the leaders of ARENA and two emerging progressive parties, Nuestro Tiempo and VAMOS, said they had documented 69 “anomalies” in the voting and vote-counting process.

Among the anomalies cited were failures in the system meant to process and send ballots; duplication, and in some cases, triplication of votes in favor of Bukele’s party; ballots abandoned in voting centers; and broken seals on packages containing votes.

Over the weekend an electoral mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) expressed concern about the delay in the vote count and problems that arose in the hand count.

The OAS observers cited the electoral body’s “lack of control” over the voting and vote count process, problems with vote authentication, and poor training of people entering results.

They also noted Bukele’s New Ideas party outnumbered the opposition for election observers and noted members from the party had intimidating attitudes towards the opposition while trying to obstruct the election observation mission and the press.

VAMOS deputy Claudia Ortiz told journalists they were calling for the election results to be voided and the vote repeated “due to serious violations of the Constitution, serious violations of citizen’s political rights and of all the candidates and especially because the principle of not falsifying the will of the people has been seriously violated.”

The leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party also called for congressional results to be nulled due to “fraud” and “manipulation,” according to congressional candidate Karina Sosa.

During his first term, Bukele used his New Ideas party’s congressional majority to pack courts with loyalists and overhaul state institutions, paving the way for him to run for a second term despite a constitutional ban on re-election.

In June, the body passed electoral reforms that analysts and opponents say favored New Ideas. The reforms cut the number of deputies, dropping the seats available to smaller parties, and changed the formula for how vote totals would translate into seats allocated to each party.

Under the new system, despite New Ideas congressional candidates winning 71% of the vote, they will hold 90% of the seats in congress.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria and Sarah Kinosian; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Chris Reese)