EYEWITNESS: Salvadorans are hopeful as they go to polls

SAN SALVADOR -- Salvadorans are excited about the opportunity that this presidential election can bring to their lives.

We noticed this on the plane among the many Salvadorans returning to El Salvador to participate in what will be a historic election today, March 15. It is clear that just as in our country, the United States, the people of El Salvador want change. They are tired of the corruption, the broken promised, of the lack of jobs, a deteriorating standard of living and the personal suffering that this ruling party has brought them for generations.

You can´t fail to notice the electricity in the air. It hits you as soon as you step off the plane, there are homemade posters, giant billboards, flags on cars, and even bigger flags on buildings, flyers posted on every light post, of both parties: ARENA and FMLN.

Salvadorans here tell us that this is new, that in previous elections because of intimidation, only the right-wing had massive campaign propaganda.

You begin to understand that both sides are fully aware of what is at stake when you talk to taxi drivers, street vendors, waiters and store merchants. Having worked on the Obama campaign we are reminded of the fervor and excitement that we saw in our country. The similarities of a fear tactics used against Obama are being used more intensely against Mauricio Funes and the FMLN.

The right wing governing ARENA party have giant billboards with a picture of Funes, Hugo, Chavezand Fidel Castro in an attempt to tap into anti-communist fears. They charge that a vote for Funes is a vote against national sovereignty, but none of it is working. Sixty percent of Salvadoran don´t feel that close ties with these leaders will influence their vote.

Another tactic that the ARENA party frequently uses in on the economic front. A few days ago the front page of the main commercial newspaper had a story where U.S. Congressman Roabacher and 40 other Republicans stated that if FMLN won the Temporary Work Permit program for Salvadorans in the U.S. will be in jeopardy.

At the same time they almost hid a small report in the back pages where officials from the U.S. State Department said that the U.S. will be willing to work with and support whichever candidate won.

Tactics that have worked well for the ruling party ARENA in the past years seem to have little effect, all polls show the FMLN with a comfortable 12 percent to 17 percent lead.

A real concern among FMLN supporters is that the ARENA party will once again steal the elections. In talking to FMLN supporters, one of the underhanded tactics used in previous elections include using immigrant workers from neighboring countries. They are given voter ID cards and sent to different voting places to vote for the ruling Party. They have also used the ID numbers of Salvadorans living outside of El Salvador and have someone else casting votes in their place.

There have been recent complaints of workers being asked by their employers to prove that they voted for ARENA by taking pictures of their ballot using their cell phones.

Even though the deadline for all political campaigning was to end on March 11, there has been reports of anti-Funes material being dropped from small planes over towns, as well as cold calling to voters homes.

Both sides understand what is at stake, for the ruling class it means losing control of the government with all its enforcement apparatus that has kept them in power for generations.

For the overwhelming majority of the people it means an opportunity to improve their lives, to live in a country that is more fair, equitable and a dignified way of living. It means an opportunity to bring democracy, an impartial court system and over all transparency to the people.

As one Salvadoran women told us, 'To be in struggle is painful but to live in poverty and have no hope hurts even more.'

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