It’s election season in El Salvador as well as in the U.S. Our campaigns are in many ways alike but in others quite different. As in the U.S. we have many parties but only three have a significant number of supporters. Each election cycle, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) cancels those parties which in the previous cycle did not garner a certain percentage of votes. These splinter parties then form a coalition to form a new party. Recently, a rift in a major party which controlled the presidency for the past couple of decades and lost it in 2009 gave rise to a new alliance that has gained enough of a following to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections for mayors and legislative deputies on March 11th. As a resident alien, I can only watch without commenting or showing partiality. You can interpret the color of this font as you wish.
As in the U.S. of old, campaigning is more personal and local. Candidates have to stump in the towns and rural collective communities to present their platforms. TV ads abound but they mostly are for voters in the major cities. The current mayor of San Salvador has two or three ads an hour during prime time. Of course, his party controls the media here. But in places like El Refugio, campaigning is done by painting the building that houses the party or the candidate in the party’s colors and stenciling the names of the candidates over the orange, blue, red, green, or blue, white, and red walls. Parties will have a stalwart’s delapidated Datsun (yes, Datsun) pickup painted in their colors as well. Speakers and party banners will be mounted on the truck and party faithful wearing party shirts, hats, jackets, and head bands will drive around the municipality with their recorded message, slogans, and songs. Periodically (depending on campaign finances), street rallies with entertainment will be held and cheap toys and candy will be distributed.
Several months prior to the election, a list of registered voters is posted outside city hall. You look for your photo and if it’s not there, you’ve got time to register.
The other comparison from my youth in Piscataway, NJ has to do with civic projects being attempted by the incumbent mayor. A couple of blocks of street might be repaired. In our town, the mayor can point to the Boulevard de la Resurrección, the new street leading from the highway to the municipal cemetery, as the legacy of his administration. They also began painting the light posts and broken equipment in our little park (but no one’s covered the “XV3” the MS 18 has painted on one otherwise useless children’s ride).
Our campaign season doesn’t begin two years before an election as it does in the U.S. I imagine that’s primarily from lack of funds. We have no super-pacs and the large business enterprises are already holding hands with the politicians so they don’t need to shell out millions to ensure life will go on as usual for them. An interesting note sounds from San Salvador where the mayor’s party has blasted the main opposition for violating a law that makes it illegal to “paste and paint” political posters or party colors on poles, walls, or curbs. He made a big issue on TV showing municipal employees hosing and scraping posters off light stancheons, pillars, and walls. Yet for the years when his party was in power, there were miles of curbs along the national highways painted in his party’s colors along with pasted posters wherever there was space.
I wish I could discuss party platforms to cite differences. In the U.S., it’s easy to distinguish Democrats from Republicans. Whatever one party says it is for, the other will be against. Here, everyone is in favor of bettering the lives of the common people and against corruption in government, which describes the “other” parties, and crime.
No matter who wins in the legislative assembly and city hall on March 11th, there will be little change for those common people whose lives the politicians are promising to better. I mentioned above the painting in the park. I just went through the park to pick up my kids from school. I saw two painters and asked one if they were going to cover the disgraceful gang logo. He pointed to the other painter. I asked him the same. He just grumbled. What it tells me is that the politicians are afraid of the pinheads who paint logos and insult us all. Sometimes I’m glad I don’t have to choose a candidate here.