Presidential campaigns enter final stretch
With less than a month until the presidential elections, electoral authorities have stepped up the necessary preparations for Election Day on 2 February, while political propaganda by all political parties has intensified.
Polls show that the election will be a close campcall between the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional – FMLN) and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Alianza Republicana Nacionalista – ARENA).
Initial polls showed ARENA’s presidential candidate, Norman Quijano, with a comfortable lead in voting preferences. Numerous incidents within the party such as dissent from several legislators and key figures such as ARENA founder Ernesto Panamá; and campaign mishaps (too much aggressive confrontation and too few innovative proposals, according to voters) were instrumental in the party losing its advantage.
The FMLN’s presidential ticket, headed by current vice-president Salvador Sánchez Cerén, is expected to attract the majority of the votes in comparison to the opposition, but not to garner more than the 50% needed to avoid a runoff election.
Decisive to the final outcome will therefore be the participation of the Unity Movement coalition (Movimiento Unidad) headed by former Salvadoran president with ARENA, Elías Antonio Saca. Although they started off strong, Saca’s numbers have fallen in recent polls, with voters swinging to the FMLN. In the homestretch, both ARENA and the FMLN are expected to devote most of their efforts to garnering the remaining Saca votes and courting other undecided voters.Although the prospect of a second round for the election and having a televised debate are new for this presidential election, some things never change. Among them is ARENA's attempt to tie the FMLN to narco-traffickers and Venezuela. Of course tying parts of the FMLN to Venezuela is easy -- Salvador Sánchez Cerén and other leaders of the party (although not including Mauricio Funes) were open and obvious friends of Hugo Chavez and still profess admiration for "Bolivarian socialism."
Tying the FMLN to narco-trafficking is more difficult. One of ARENA's old allies is Elliott Abrams, an official from the administration of Ronald Reagan. Abrams recently wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post, asserting that a victory by Sánchez Cerén and the FMLN would be a victory by narco-traffickers. Abrams relies on information from another old Reagan administration figure, Roger Noriega, who points to alleged ties between an FMLN leader Luis Merino and the FARC rebels in Colombia. But as I wrote more than five years ago (when the same campaign tactics were trying to slow down Mauricio Funes), the allegations about Merino are old news in El Salvador, but they get trotted out every five years when election time comes around.
The rhetoric got even more overblown in a piece written by Ana Rosa Quintana of the conservative US-based Heritage Foundation titled International Criminality and Socialist Alliance Loom in El Salvador’s Election:
The FMLN candidate, Sánchez Cerén, further complicates the situation. While the FMLN has never been known for being moderate, it has pushed the envelope by selecting an individual infamous for celebrating the 9/11 attacks and for being an unwavering supporter of the ALBA bloc — the anti-US, socialist Bolivarian Alliance. Concerns surrounding Sánchez Cerén emanate from his ideological position, but his connections to criminality and corruption are most troubling.Lacking in these attacks from the US right wing is anything showing any corruption involving Sanchez Ceren -- he's squeaky clean -- or mentioning that under the current FMLN presidency El Salvador has maintained a decidedly pro-US foreign policy. Nor is there any mention that elected politicians from ARENA and other conservative political parties in El Salvador have been linked to drug-trafficking. I doubt that these tired attacks will have any impact on the outcome of the election, since they have had no demonstrable impact in previous years.
These attacks will not be successful in moving the Salvadoran electorate if the "Complexity and Social Networks" blog is correct. That blog gives the FMLN a 96.9% chance of winning the election. (I have no idea how they come up with that number, but I plan to ask).