Twenty-four Canadian Anglicans, from the dioceses of Huron and New Westminster, served as election observers at the presidential election in the Republic of El Salvador on Feb. 2. The delegation participated under the auspices of Foundation Cristosal, a partner of the Anglican diocese of El Salvador.
Gillian Hoyer is a theology student from Victoria, B.C., studying at Huron University College in London, Ont. At the end of her day at a voting centre on the outskirts of San Salvador, Hoyer remarked, “I appreciated being able to observe and lend credible witness to the election. The energy and excitement at our polling station was palpable and, despite having little Spanish with which to communicate, we could not help but share in the joy of the day.”
The role of international observers is to verify the free exercise of the right to vote, the correct function of the electoral process, and conformity to civil law. This was accomplished by each team of observers who submitted several reports throughout the voting day to the Electoral Tribunal of El Salvador.
Observers were oriented to political realities in El Salvador through participation in three days of training. This included presentations on the United Nations’ 2013 Report on Human Development in El Salvador, the current state of human rights and the political situation, and the influence of foreign capital and power on public policy. Representatives of the three top political parties made presentations to observers about their parties’ platforms. Overarching concerns in El Salvador are the need to improve human capacity, especially through education, and to address the epidemic of gang violence that threatens public security throughout the country. Observers were educated on their responsibilities during the day of voting, especially the requirements of impartiality, non-intervention and respect for electoral law. Also, they were oriented to the logistics of how voting happens.
Organizers of this delegation were pleased by the good organization and transparency of the electoral process in February’s vote. In this particular election, three credible candidates vied for the presidency of El Salvador, but no candidate won a majority of the ballots cast. The leading candidate, Salvador Cerén, representing the incumbent Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) party, came within a whisper of victory, with 48.95 per cent of the vote. Consequently, a run-off vote between the two top contenders, FMLN and ARENA (38.9 per cent), will be held March 9.
This is not the first time Foundation Cristosal has facilitated the process of accrediting international election observers in El Salvador. In 2009 and again in 2012, groups from Vancouver attended the presidential and municipal elections. Several Canadian Anglicans serve on the board of directors of Foundation Cristosal, including Dr. Susan Burgess, the Very Rev. Kevin Dixon and Glen Mitchell. Having participated in all three elections, Mitchell said, “I was impressed at this year’s election by the number of young people and parents accompanied by their small children who turned out to vote, to serve as volunteers, and who seemed very engaged in the democratic process.”
This year’s Canadian delegation spent eight days in El Salvador. Participants visited the places where Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 and where six Jesuit priests were martyred in 1989. They also went to the region near the Honduran border where there has been controversy about metallic mining and its environmental impact on the Lempa River, El Salvador’s primary water source.
The Very Rev. Kevin Dixon is dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London Ont., and secretary for Foundation Cristosal, which describes itself as “a faith-based human rights and community development organization with Anglican roots that works to strengthen the ability of the poor to act for justice and development as equal citizens in a democratic society. Our professional team works with local leaders to achieve development goals by defending human rights and empowering Salvadorans with the skills and resources to improve the quality of life in their communities.”