Monday, January 22, 2018

Propaganda in the El Salvador Elections

                Propaganda, in all its controversy, is an integral part of each election in El Salvador. For the departmental and municipal elections this year, candidates have already begun their animated efforts to sway voters. Navigating the electoral code and assessing the recent situation of transparency help with understanding El Salvador’s electoral propaganda.

                El Salvador’s updated Electoral Code denotes the regulations surrounding the election, including when and how candidates can display promotional advertisements for their campaign. According to the Code, senators running for office may begin presenting propaganda two months before election day, while mayoral candidates must wait until one month beforehand (Art. 172). Violations from any source of electronic or physical media (i.e. radio, TV, rallies, demonstrations, flyers, loudspeaker announcements)(Art. 175) will involve a fine between ten to fifty thousand colones, the previous currency for El Salvador. This translates to $1,114- $5,714.
                The Electoral Code also lists the rules for promotional content and means of display. No party or individual candidate may advertise on public buildings, national monuments, trees, artwork, traffic signs, or on the walls of houses or buildings of which the owners did not give permission (Art. 179). The Code only allows candidates to hang posters and photos that are easy to take down- no paintings or permanent hangings (Art 173). Lastly, candidates cannot do damage; either in the form of insults and defamation to other candidates, or by promoting public disorder or property damage (Art 173). Common law deals with these violations.

                Although the Code seems to clearly list the regulations surrounding propaganda distribution and displays in the country, questions of transparency still arise. For example, with only one to two months of campaigning, candidates have little time to advertise. This time limit could be positive, in that all candidates receive equal promotional time and citizens live free from a year-long bombardment of campaign messages. However, it also means that citizens have little time, and limited resources to research the candidates. There exist virtually no websites listing the candidates and their platform, and even if there were, many Salvadorans in the rural communities live without internet access. Most Salvadorans see only propaganda advertised on their streets, some of it illegitimate,
breaking the electoral code rules (ex. being displayed too early, billboards painted on walls, etc.).
In addition, CIS observers have noted that the propaganda teaches people how to mark a ballot for a candidate or party, but as mentioned before, there is no message of political content or platform (pictured to the left and right). People are only told who to vote for and how to vote, but not why. This is another transparency issue that leads to misinformed voting.
                Each of El Salvador’s eight leading political parties use propaganda cleverly, and sometimes even illegally, all in hopes of gaining more votes. Historically, elections in El Salvador have been a time of unrest and potential, wrought with heightened emotion of all descriptions. Today’s propaganda keeps that intensity alive as the country eagerly awaits the final results.

Written by: Sarah Hammaker