Sunday, March 15, 2009

We Have a Winner!

9:20 p.m. about 300 yards away from where I sit, Mauricio Funes of the FMLN is giving his acceptance speech in the Sheraton Hotel. Fatima thinks that the Arena candidate is probably giving his own speech ... but after a long night of vote counting, it appears that we have a clear winner.

No violence! Lots of language about how this is a young democracy. Lots of foreign scrutineers and a pretty clean process. Saw some shenanigans like a group of 10 Nicaraguans who were given fake ID cards and hats and T-shirts of the right wing Arena party - but they were caught pretty easily so were they paid by the left or the right?

The ballots were pretty basic - about 8 x 10" with only two choices given by their squarish coloured logo. Mark one or the other. In one case, someone put the "X" in the middle and there was an argument because it was touching the Frente symbol. In another case, someone in the countryside was so nervous about the party observers and international scrutineers ... that they panicked and put an "X" through the seal of the country. A vote for El Salvador!

Throughout the night, the cable channel has been periodically putting the Emergency Alert System on so that this one electoral official could stumble over reading number after number. They interrupted Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, The Unit, and now Bizarre Foods. Okay, what is this guy saying ... 8 million votes, 91% counted ... 48.76% for Arena and 51.27% for FMLN! Fireworks are going off outside and we have a socialist government coming into power in May!

After 20 years, there is a new government and we weren’t threatened by the US this time. They normally like to make noises about how El Salvador may not receive special treatment related to immigration issues and remittances if the communists take power. But there was a lot of noise from the American Embassy or maybe the State Dept about how other countries (i.e. Chavez’ Venezuela) shouldn’t stick their nose into another sovereign government’s election process. So I guess they felt bad about doing it themselves.

I can hear cheering from the Sheraton but otherwise, San Benito is very, very quiet. No surprise since this is a wealthy neighbourhood and I am sure most people voted for the right. We can see fireworks way off in the distance. The TV stations (which are controlled by right wing voting groups) are showing mostly boring speeches - the head of Arena for San Salvador is saying how divided the country is ... and he appears to be drunk. Not much news of how the city is taking these results so off to the streets!
Wow, there are hundreds of cars driving up and down Escalon and all over the side streets. Traffic is mostly blocked and thousands of people are gathering on foot, wearing red FMLN shirts and waving flags.
Traffic is crazy and it takes us about 10 cycles of a traffic light to cross through Escalon. I have never seen people this happy and emotional before.
Normally everyone is so reserved in public and they don't make eye contact or talk. Now people are waving at me as I take their picture (sorry for the quality - I really have to get a better camera) and kids are directing traffic while waving flags.
Cars make U-turns to either get closer to the celebration or to get farther away.
A guy is walking up the street with a big hand-lettered sign that says "Cual miedo?" which means "Which fear?"

Booom! Someone is throwing giant firecrackers (the illegal foot long ones called morteros) on the street and one went off very close to our car. We don't want to get caught in traffic for an hour so we head further and further down a side street until we can cut across Escalon. Cars are still flocking up the street to join the party and it is good to see the cops are all out - but they are staying in the vehicles and there seems to be no problems.

The TV channels are showing the concession speach by Rodrigo Avila (the donut fan) but nothing of the massive celebration going on in the street. That's too bad because on the TV and amongst my expat business friends the mood is dour and pessimistic. But the people have spoken and now they are celebrating in the streets. Their faces are shining and they look euphoric with so much hope for a better future.

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