The mysterious “X” and what it holds at stake

FMLN XI saw it on my first day in the country: an “X” slashed across ARENA‘s logo. Vandalism, I thought, until I continued to see that same X on nearly every billboard and sign. Small FMLN posters, dozens of them clustered together, each had an X drawn across them as well. These X’s were purposely printed on, not graffitied by the hand of a vandal.

But why would a political party X-out its own logo?

My question was answered yesterday during our observation training at the ARENA XIniciativa Social para la Democracia (ISD), and it illuminated to me how little I knew about the logistics of the Salvadoran voting process. Voters mark their decision by hand, drawing preferably an X directly on their party’s bandera (flag). If the mark isn’t solely and completely drawn on only one bandera, the vote is either nullified or contested by La Junta Receptora de Votos (Vote Receiving Board), a group of four people responsible for receiving and documenting voters and their ballots, and then communicating their Xvoting center’s results to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal).

Tomorrow, March 15, from 7 am to 5 pm at 460 voting centers across 14 Departments (what we would consider states), the people of El Salvador will be choosing a president to lead them through the next five years. But, it will be the responsibility of both candidates to help the country get through tomorrow tonight without any violence.

FUNESThe emotions fomented by this election are fierce. The civil war ended 17 years ago, but for the people here, it might as well have been yesterday, such is the level of their excitement and fear. In fact, two young people I spoke with about the election who were only toddlers when the war ended requested their names not be included in this blog for fear of reprisals against them or their families.

fmlnA 20 year old male, Salvadoran-born, naturalized US citizen visiting his family in San Salvador told me he had rocks hurled by FMLN supporters at a car he was riding in. The car was flying ARENA’s flag. His cousin explained that their family, while not particularly happy with ARENA, is afraid that under the FMLN things might be even worse. They are so frightened by the unknown – an unknown that has been associated in the media with Hugo Chavez and the FARC – that they are willing to resist change, or even the hope of it. To them, ARENA equals “stability,” and he FMLN equals “revolution.”

arena libertadBut others believe that a revolution is in order: a non-violent, social, intellectual, economic, and political revolution. A female voter and patron of an enormous evangelical church reported to me that most of the congregation will vote FMLN because they believe that party will do more to serve the poor and the oppressed. They fear that five more years of ARENA’s “stability” would only add up to continued and increased poverty, unemployment, crime, and death. She also told me that, no matter the outcome, she is sure that there will be violence in the streets perpetrated by members of both parties. Her plan is to go to church in the morning (all attendees have been asked to wear white clothing, not ARENA’s red/white/blue or the FMLN’s pure red), vote in the afternoon, and then go directly to her house, lock the doors, and stay inside all night.

taxi fmln4,226,479 men and women are registered to vote tomorrow. Those who make it to the polls will draw an X across the bandera of their candidate’s party in an effort to strike down the opposition… and their fears.

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