Similar to the strategy that worked in the 2004 balloting which elected Tony Saca, ARENA's current campaign is marked by use of explicit fear tactics and the smiling face of the popular Tony Saca. Campaigning across the country for mayors and legislators, Saca explicitly plays to the fears of Salvadorans.
One of the themes of the 2004 election was the warning that if the FMLN won the presidency, Salvadorans living in the US would be deported. That theme is being used again. This weekend, La Prensa reported that Saca played on the current uncertainty over the status of the TPS program which protects more than 200,000 Salvadorans from deportation. As he heads to Washington this week to meet with George Bush, Saca asserted that he will achieve stability in migration matters, but warned his listeners that "If they vote for the FMLN, it is sure that their family members will be deported."
On the campaign trail, Saca has been quick to assert that street protests in the country are orchestrated by the FMLN. Proceso quotes Saca telling the press:
The only guilty party for everything that happened today is the FMLN. Now I understand what "the struggle continues" means: the struggle continues blocking streets, the struggle continues disturbing productive labor, the struggle continues associating themselves with gangs, the struggle continues associating themselves with riots and disorder. It seems to me that the FMLN is taking these desperate actions for the inner struggle among their leaders after Mr. Handal's death. It is a pity that all we Salvadorans pay the price for these problems".
Also over this weekend, gangs torched two buses for the failure of the bus companies to pay the "tax" demanded by the gangs. Without proof or a completed investigation, Saca has already linked the gang actions to the FMLN. El Diario quotes Saca saying today:
"These gangs that burned those micro-buses are related to a political party," and "You know the clear nexus of the FMLN with the gangs... The pre-election violence, the burning of buses or micro-buses or the disorders that close the streets for supposed protests for water ... basically come from people related to the FMLN"
Another type of fear tactic comes from Saca's participation today in ceremonies commemorating the 14th anniversary of the death of Roberto D'Aubuisson, founder of ARENA. For many elements of Salvadoran society, the message of honoring the man who ordered the assassination of Oscar Romero and orchestrated death squad activities in the country, could not be more clear. Campaigning over the weekend, Saca told a rally that "We leave from here to March 12 [elections] to work for the principles that our founder, Roberto D'Aubuisson left us: peace, progress and liberty."
At the same time, the ARENA campaign is trying to convince voters that electing ARENA candidates is necessary to help the popular president govern the country. Under the slogan "Hagamos equipo" -- "We make a team" -- Saca seeks to improve ARENA's representation among mayors and deputies in the National Assembly.
For example, in a rally in La Libertad, as reported in El Diario Saca told the crowd:
"A vote for Chamba [the ARENA candidate for mayor] is a vote for me. All the promises that he has told you we are going to accomplish, that is my commitment."
All polls surrounding the election suggest that the results will be close. Saca and ARENA are reverting to the tactics of fear and a smiling face which have swayed the results in the past.