“We are no longer in a position to accept decisions that are not legally binding”

The collegium of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, consisting of five regular magistrates and five alternates, suffered a breakdown as a result of the irregular election process and – five days after the election – confirmed Nayeb Bukhele as the winner to rule. For another five years, despite the express constitutional prohibition.

El Faro obtained a copy of three letters the alternate judges sent to the college system's co-owners in the week after the Feb. 4 election. In the last of the notes received by the General Secretariat of the TSE this Sunday, February 11 afternoon, four of the five substitutes distance themselves from all decisions and announcements made by the TSE during the preliminary data. Transfer failed. In a letter, they suggest that actions have been taken outside the 'lawful' and 'proper' method. in a 'one-sided' way.

From left to right: Carmen Velasquez (Owner), Marlon Cornejo (Owner), Guillermo Wellman (Owner), Dora Martinez (Owner and President), Noel Orellana (Owner), Julio Olivo (Owner), Rene Molina (Owner) and Ruben Melendez ( owner). Photo: Courtesy of TSE.

In the letter, the alternate judges pledged: “We no longer accept decisions that are not legally delivered” or “declarations and pledges made unilaterally.”

The alternate judges sent two other letters: the first of them, the day after the vote; And, secondly, on Thursday, February 8, four days had passed without official results, and the TSE was scrambling to start the day with minutes of the presidential election and the final counting of ballots in a hotel in the capital. In both letters, the substitutes complained to their colleagues about the lack of information about the decisions taken by the owners and asked them to take necessary steps so that information about the action was shared among the 10 magistrates.

In the letters, the replacement judges described inconsistencies they had observed in the days leading up to the vote and therefore asked them not to take responsibility for the verdicts on Sunday 4th. “We cannot take any responsibility for the issues presented to us. The February 5 letter says that only the proprietary judges know the full picture for the election.

In their notes to the collegium, the constituencies openly expressed doubts about whether the TSE can successfully conduct the March 3 elections that will appoint new mayors and councilors of the country's 44 municipalities.

Substitute judge Sonia Levano confirmed the authenticity of the documents, but added a nuance: “I can confirm that the reference was immediately taken care of and that the necessary agreements were made to continue working together to hold the event. The election,” he said.

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The judge belonging to the TSE, Noel Orellana, confirmed that the college system received three letters dated February 5, 8 and 11, but in his opinion, the comments expressed did not represent any issue of importance.

The two letters were signed by five alternate judges: Marlon Harold Cornejo Avalos, replacing the judge proposed by Arena; Carmen Verális Velázquez, to replace the judge proposed by the FMLN; Rene Abelardo Molina, Alternate Chairman of the TSE of the Ghanaian Party; Maria Blanca Paz Mondalvo and Sonia Clementina Levano are the replacements for the judges appointed by the Supreme Court.

Only four judges signed the letters dated February 11. Cornejo does not appear to be a signatory.

On Sunday the 11th, the TSE set up 300 tables in the Adolfo Pineda Gymnasium in San Salvador to count the votes for the Legislative Assembly elections, the result of which is still uncertain, as it was less than 1% on February 4. Minutes passed.

On the one hand, political parties such as Arena, Vamos and Nuestro Tiempo assert that the TSE does not provide accurate and timely information on the logistics and procedures to be followed to count votes. On the other hand, the TSE assures that the participants are informed.

At 10pm on Sunday, Arena announced it was withdrawing from the probe because the TSE did not guarantee 'the conditions of a transparent process'.

Carlos García Sade, president of Arena, criticized on February 4 that the vote-by-vote review tables would not have any decision-making power to correct possible errors made by JRV, which rendered the account ineffective. Vamos and Nuestro Tiempo criticized that they would not be allowed to recount the votes if they found an error.

On Tuesday, February 6, in a closed-door meeting with representatives of political parties, the president of the TSE, Dora Martínez, acknowledged the failure of the electoral process and suggested that it may be due to a planned boycott.

An “intractable crisis” 9 days before elections

As noted in the February 5 memo, the college system had already been talking since the day before the election and had already recognized the enormous possibility that many things could go wrong on Election Day.

According to the letter, at a meeting on January 25, the alternate judges were tasked with “overseeing and trying to overcome obstacles identified” in the exercise. But what the alternative authorities say in their letters is that at that time they considered that there was “no time to solve” the problems that had already been detected by TSE.

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In that first letter, the judges say they knew they were “in an irremediable crisis” by January 25, having already changed a good part of the general election plan (PLAGEL). The plan consists of 25 plans (or axes of work) into which the organization of the electoral process is divided and which is considered the backbone of the entire system. According to the substitute judges, the uncorrected crisis and judgments in the last days of January can have only one outcome: a crisis on voting day.

The judges also describe that until January 26, nine days before the elections, the TSE made calls to those in charge of the PLAGEL projects to ask if there were any problems or difficulties. According to the letter, at that meeting, functional areas reported four major problems, among them the “crisis in forming voting board members.”

As can be seen on polling day, the manner in which 8,562 JRVs were coordinated had triggered numerous complaints from political parties. By law, each table is made up of representatives from the four parties that received the most votes in the last election and a fifth seat is reserved between the other competing parties. According to the parties' complaints, the ruling New Ideas party used legal tactics to monopolize the majority of posts.

Three other issues raised by Bagel employers at the January 26 meeting were lack of temporary staff for different projects, non-compliance of contract staff with regular work schedules and lack of staff commitment in the election process. .

Replacement officers complained to their colleagues that they had not been informed in a timely manner of this string of problems identified by Blagel project managers. When they were finally informed, it was very close to the polls. “We cannot accept any responsibility for the issues that were brought to our attention in time and the consequences that reverberated on February 4,” the letter said.

They said they were never aware of the decisions and agreements made by an ad hoc body called the “Election Coordinating Commission” and, according to the TSE's administrative source, the substitutes did not participate, but only the owners. According to the source, the commission oversaw the recruitment, procurement of goods and services required for the electoral process and the electoral organization of all legislative units and schemes.

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The five judges holding the TSE are Dora Martinez, the Chief Justice and the proposal of the Ghana Party; Guillermo Wellman, magistrate proposed by Arena; Julio Olivo, a magistrate proposed by the FMLN; Ruben Melendez and Noel Orellana proposed by the Supreme Court.

Doubt for March 3rd

In their second letter to the college system, the disabled asked for more communication about the decisions their fellow owners are making. “Necessary steps should be taken to ensure that all the judges in this collegium are kept informed at all times of all developments in the course of the current election and its aftermath,” they asked.

They also expressed doubt whether the equipment would work properly on March 3. They pointed out that the same equipment was used in the 2021 elections and it worked “perfectly”, which is why the February 4 verdict caught their attention. “It's important to determine what happened in this last election, and that's why we have to question it: Were they proven right? “Some changes were made that prevent it from working properly?” Officials mentioned in their letter.

They asked that the training of JRV members should be improved and necessary steps should be taken to motivate them and ensure timely payment of those who are required to work at the polling stations on March 3. They recommend reviewing the system “based on database and contingency mechanisms.”

Apparently, a week before the election, there was a divisive atmosphere in the college system. At the same time that the final examination of the presidential vote got more and more stuck at the Hilton Hotel in San Salvador, the alternate officials decided to play one last card: to call their colleagues from the college system “to press for an emergency meeting.” “

According to a copy accessed by El Faro, the meeting will help make decisions that are “appropriate and necessary to move forward with the vote counting process” that reflect “the opinion and position of all the judges that make up the TSE.”

But the alternate judges in the letter pointed out that whatever was done by the TSE was not really a collective action but rather a series of decisions taken by the owners alone. “We make it clear that we are no longer in a position to accept decisions and actions that have not been legally and properly announced by the full session, as well as declarations and pledges that have not been legally made, unilaterally.”

Esmond Harmon

"Entrepreneur. Social media advocate. Amateur travel guru. Freelance introvert. Thinker."

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