Salvador politicians question election, US observers hail it
While the team of United States observers has largely endorsed Sunday's election in El Salvador, many Salvadorean politicians of varied persuasions are expressing misgivings about the vote.
Back in the US Monday, House majority leader Jim Wright (D) of Texas called the Salvadorean vote ''valid.'' He said he was ''very much impressed by the obvious deep desire of the people of El Salvador to have a democratic election.''
But here in San Salvador, there is an angry debate over the elections. Some members of the rightist National Republican Alliance have called for an annulment of the vote. They say that up to 70 percent of the voters were unable to cast ballots because of mismanagement.
Officials in the conservative National Conciliation Party privately estimated that as many as 60 percent of those who went to the polls were turned away. The moderate Christian Democratic Party, which declared itself the winner on Monday, contends that approximately 30 percent of the voters who arrived at the polls were unable to vote.
While the parties reportedly do not intend to officially challenge the election, all the parties have expressed dismay at what they see as the Central Electoral Commission's bad administration of the United States-funded and -guided vote.
''The elections were a scandal,'' says National Republican Alliance representative Juan Ramirez. ''The commission was handed millions of dollars by the US to provide the freest and fairest election possible, and this is what we end up with.''
Reporter Jorge Armando Contreras commented, ''The Central Electoral Commission has done more damage to the Salvadorean electoral process than the guerrillas.''
The Electoral Commission, which has refused to respond publicly to the charges, also seems to have incurred the anger of several high-ranking military officials here who had hoped the elections would help legitimize the Salvadorean government.
On Sunday afternoon, when the logistical failings became evident, Treasury Police chief Col. Nicolas Carranza, military press office chief Col. Ricardo Aristides Cienfuegos, and armed forces chief of staff Col. Adolfo Onecifero Blandon visited the Electoral Commission, apparently to register their displeasure.
The registration difficulties were indeed so severe that three of the eight presidential candidates, including National Conciliation Party candidate Francisco Jose Guerrero, had to travel to the Central Electoral Commission office to cast special ballots.
''I know there were problems,'' says electoral manager Jorge Rochac. ''Considering the small amount of time we had to prepare the elections, I think we did very well. I know three of the candidates had to vote in special circumstances, but I am told one of them had problems with his identification card, so it was not the fault of our registration list.''
The Electoral Commission has done its best to put a good face on the elections, citing the high voter turnout and ignoring the charges of mismanagement.
''There were some minor problems,'' Rochac says, ''but when all the information is released, I think you will see that most people got to vote.''
Many of the US observers, who returned to the US Monday, appeared to agree with this assessment. Senator William Roth (R) of Delaware was reported as saying in Washington, for instance, ''There were some problems admittedly, but the consensus was that it was a very, very impressive event, . . . truly another step forward with the democratic process.''
Representative Wright was reported as commenting that, on the basis of the election, he would support further US military aid to El Salvador - although perhaps not the full amount that President Reagan is seeking. ''I think it would be very foolish to condemn a country that is struggling so valiantly for freedom , to let it fall off a cliff for want of helicopters and medical supplies,'' he said.
Senator Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts (who did not observe the Salvador election) was reported as saying Monday, however, that he would try to reduce President Reagan's aid request for El Salvador to $21 million. The Reagan administration originally requested $93 million in emergency military and medical funds but later agreed to reduce this to $61.75 million. The Senate is scheduled to vote on the issue this week.
Local news media organizations here began tabulating results almost as soon as the voting ended. The preliminary broadcasts, however, were quickly censored by the Electoral Commission, which has claimed that it alone has the right to issue figures. The commission has also reprimanded the Christian Democrats for releasing their own computations.
The failure by the commission to release even preliminary election results, and its efforts to squelch unofficial tabulations, has aggravated anger and frustration here.
With the increase in tension and uncertainty, the military remains on full alert. The guerrillas continue to sabotage the electrical systems around the country, often leaving most of El Salvador without electrical power. Several observers here, including a political leader for the guerrillas, have speculated that the insurgent forces may hope to take advantage of the current confusion by striking a major military blow in the next few days.
The Salvadorean political parties, meanwhile, are attempting to determine how they have fared in the election. The three major parties privately concede that it appears that the Christian Democrats will win.
Both the National Republican Alliance and the National Conciliation Party, however, contend they will finish in second place. The latter is privately telling its supporters that it has won at least three of the 14 provinces and has finished a close second in two more.