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El Salvador - 2015 Legislative Election

National municipal and legislative elections were held on 01 March 2015. The release of final election results by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) electoral authorities was delayed until March 27 due to problems with the transmission, tabulation, and public dissemination of the vote count.

Results of the 01 March 2015 elections were similar to the composition to the outgoing legislature. The National Republican Alliance (ARENA) remained the largest force in the 84-member Legislative Assembly with 32 seats, one more than the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN ), effectively led by President Salvador Sánchez Cerén. The Grand Alliance for National Unity (GANA), a splinter party of the ARENA, which supported the FMLN in the outgoing legislature, retained its 11 seats.

The 2015 elections were the first to be held since Cerén - a former guerrilla commander during El Salvador's civil war (1979-1992) was elected President in March 2014. He succeeded President Mauricio Funes (FMLN), who was not eligible for a second consecutive term. Following the collapse in mid-2014 of the 2012 truce between the country's two main gangs, homicides increased sharply: 481 people were killed in March 2015 in a country of 6.1 million inhabitants. During the election campaign, the major parties focused on ways to counter gang-related violence and crime, while also promising to create more jobs.

A new voting method was applied for the first time in 2015, following a November 2014 ruling by the Supreme Court of Justice that citizens could not be prevented from voting for individual candidates from one or more political parties. Under the new system, voters have a range of options: they may vote for a party or coalition (with the additional possibility of indicating their preference for one or more candidates); they may vote for individual candidates from a party or coalition (without voting for the whole party or coalition); or they may choose individual candidates from different parties in their district.

However, each voter is still entitled to one vote only. Thus, if a voter selects candidates from different parties, his/her one vote will be divided among those candidates' parties. Seats in the Legislative Assembly are still allotted based on the number of votes that each party receives, either through the votes cast for the party or its candidates. Thereafter, the party seats are distributed to candidates according to the number of preferential votes that they received. Unlike other parties, the FMLN urged its supporters to vote only for the party, not for individual candidates.

International and domestic electoral observers participated in the election and counting process. The election report published by the Organization of American States electoral mission noted that while votes were being tabulated, “inconsistencies were discovered in a large number of records, due to erroneous data and information input by many voting centers.”

The report also noted changes made to the voting system by the TSE during the pre-electoral stage, as ordered by the Constitutional Chamber, including the introduction of the crossed-vote, which allows citizens to vote for an individual candidate rather than a party list, allowing citizens to vote for candidates from different parties, “raised concerns, as the change of rules was made just three months before the elections, complicating compliance with the electoral timetable and planning and modifying an electoral process already underway.” This assessment was controversial.

On April 14, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ordered a vote-by-vote recount for the 24 legislators elected in the municipality of San Salvador, the country’s largest constituency. The results of the recount did not alter any of the election results released by TSE on March 27.

During these elections, as in the 2014 presidential elections, the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) political parties accused each other of fraud, including reports of double voting and voter intimidation. The Political Parties Law prohibits public officials from campaigning in elections.

In June 2016 the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional Article 195 of the electoral code, which prohibited police and soldiers from voting in polling stations where they provide security. On January 5, legislators reformed the electoral code and authorized soldiers and police officers to vote in the same place as they work so long as they are duly registered in the electoral roll of that neighborhood. While the law prohibits public officials from campaigning in elections, this provision lacked consistent enforcement.

A July 2016 ruling by the country's Supreme Court overturned a law granting amnesty for war crimes during El Salvador's 1979-1992 civil war. On 01 October 2016 a judge reopened the investigation of perhaps the most ghastly and notorious crime of the Cold War, the 1981 massacre of as many as 1,200 Salvadoran villagers in the northeastern town of El Mozote. The El Mozote villagers were mostly evangelical Christians who had tried to remain neutral in the conflict. Because of that, they decided not to flee when rebel sympathizers nearby ran away from an army advance. But soldiers suspected them of rebel sympathies in any case. Many of the bodies were dumped in the interior of a small church and burned. El Mozote became a synonym for the United States' government's atrocities in a brutal campaign to stave off communism in Latin America and the rest of the developing world. The slaughter was carried out by an elite army unit trained at the U.S. School of the Americas. Most of the victims were women and children, all were civilians.

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