Electoral Space: Strengthening El Salvador’s Democracy Ahead of Elections

  • Jorge Arce, Christopher Marinez

On February 28, Salvadorans will take to the polls to choose the officials responsible for making key decisions about the future of El Salvador’s democracy, such as overseeing the election of the country’s Supreme Court magistrates.

Recognizing the importance of building a government willing and able to hold democratic elections, civil society organizations (CSO) are playing a crucial role in helping citizens understand the electoral process, advocating for electoral transparency and promoting safety measures. With support from the International Republican Institute (IRI), Electoral Space (or Espacio Electoral) – a consortium of CSOs that promote modernized, free and fair elections – is conducting monitoring and oversight to ensure democratic elections next week.

Established in 2019 as part of IRI’s commitment to supporting free, fair and transparent elections in El Salvador, Electoral Space is critical to keeping citizens engaged and monitoring the country’s electoral processes. The consortium aims to enhance the democratic integrity of elections and foster continued growth by addressing the concerns prevalent in El Salvador’s elections, such as low civic participation – especially among youth – and a disempowered civil society. Electoral Space has reached more than 434,000 citizens through its “Let’s All Vote” campaign, providing Salvadorans across the country (particularly women and youth) with key information on the candidates and electoral process.

In its capacity as election monitors, the consortium has also drafted and presented seven electoral reform proposals to strengthen the integrity of elections. One of the group’s key areas of focus has been addressing electoral violence. Since its founding, Electoral Space has worked to ensure elections are accessible and safe for all Salvadorans, helping to mitigate violence against women and minority groups in the 2019 elections. By facilitating in-depth interviews with Salvadoran minorities, Electoral Space and IRI identified solutions to electoral violence that can be applied to this month’s elections and enhance voter inclusivity. Taking what they learned in 2019, Electoral Space is now calling on stakeholders to demand peaceful elections next week, and on authorities to enforce the rule of law. The group is also providing citizens with guidelines to keep themselves safe if electoral violence does ensue.

As the February 28 elections approach, Electoral Space’s dedication to keeping voters informed and monitoring elections remains necessary. IRI is now supporting Electoral Space to expand its membership – including more youth, women, LGBTI members and persons with disabilities in its activities. With more diverse members, Electoral Space is organizing virtual exchanges with peer organizations at home and abroad to encourage increased voter engagement throughout the region.

In addition, IRI is continuing to help Electoral Space with providing the public with electoral research that not only promotes their engagement, but also enables citizens to vote safely. Aside from its outreach efforts, Electoral Space is also doubling down on its monitoring of electoral corruption – overseeing the financial cost compliance of political parties and the transparency of campaigns.

IRI’s support to Electoral Space will not end with the 2021 elections. Issues such as advancing the 2019 electoral reform proposals, promoting constitutional reform, facilitating voting abroad and monitoring political party laws and financing require the international community’s sustained attention. No matter the results of next week’s elections, the importance of El Salvador’s continued improvement in electoral transparency and inclusivity cannot be understated. As such, IRI remains dedicated to providing technical advice to the country’s decision-makers and helping Electoral Space expand its membership and inclusion of vulnerable groups. Most importantly, IRI is driven by its mission to elevate Electoral Space as El Salvador’s premier electoral watchdog.  

By expanding and strengthening their initiatives, Electoral Space is contributing to improved voter education, electoral monitoring, electoral reform discussio, and intersectoral-agenda setting. Electoral Space’s role in the upcoming elections and beyond will be crucial to ensuring free and fair elections and defending democracy throughout the region. 

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