The final month of campaigning

With El Salvador's presidential election approaching on February 2, the rhetoric and the interest in El Salvador and elsewhere is starting to crest.  Tony Saca, Norman Quijano, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén are criss-crossing the country searching for votes and filling social media channels with their campaign themes. 

There have not been any recent opinion polls released, so it is hard to gauge which way things might be moving.   You can check my tracking chart to see how things looked in various polls throughout 2013.  The average of four polls released in December showed Salvador Sánchez Cerén with 34%, Norman Quijano with 32% and Tony Saca trailing significantly with 16%.   There is still a large undeclared group of voters.  

This weekend on January 12, there will be a televised debate of the presidential candidates at 7 p.m. El Salvador time.   It's a first for the country, but I don't know how much impact it will have.    

PulsAmerica has a short summary of where we stand less than a month before the election:
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).


Carlos X. said…
Thanks for this, Tim. You've given us a great recap of the sweep of the campaign as well as the snapshot of the particular moment. To the FMLN's detriment, I don't think they can count on the Complexity and Social Networks' 96.9% chance of winning. I think there's about a 100% chance of the thing going to second round, and what happens next is anybody's guess. I'm not sure the contingency runoff polling being done now is reliable, and I'm not sure Saca's voters will go to the FMLN. If they're sticking with Saca this late in the game, they may be committed Saca voters who will rather stay home than go anywhere at all and, looking at your chart, there's no guaranty that a downturn for Saca translates into a reliable immediate gain for the FMLN. Having said all that, you'd rather be Sanchez Ceren than Quijano about now. First, Sanchez Ceren has been consistently ahead in most public polls and, as Mitt Romney found out, that's not something to sneeze at. Second, Quijano has been a walking PR disaster as of late. His big name political adviser, former Pres. Flores, is currently myred in the scandal of the season over the "missing" $10M earthquake funds from Taiwan and saying "no comment" is not the optics you want for a presidential candidate. Many other things have been going wrong in the day to day of politics--for example, Quijano recently tried to launch a free bus line for San Salvador commuters, a much scaled back version of the public transportation program he had originally promised. Social networks and online papers were abuzz with pictures of the first bus on its maiden voyage broken down on "Monsignor Romero Boulevard" (irony of ironies!) and Quijano reportedly had to make a hasty exit on his luxury private car. Aides later tried to spin the bus' breakdown as a mere air conditioning issue, but the images were probably already seared in the public's mind. In sum, I'd agree the election is Sanchez Ceren's to lose, but if I were in the FMLN, I'd be lobbying Saca hard for an endorsement (or in the alternative, abstention from endorsing).
Carlos X. said…
One last point, on these first televised debates. This will be Tony Saca's last chance. John Mccain was good at making do with free publicity opportunities, and Saca can try to make a charge to turn around his fortunes, maybe try to take out Quijano and insert himself as the alternative. Long shot. Apart from the debate format not being conducive to that sort of play (no live audience to play to for applause lines, rules don't permit the candidates asking each other questions, and there will be five candidates there--including two minor parties), it is probably way too late in the game to reinvent yourself.
Hodad said…
Saca needs to be in jail, and as in 2009, I will be observing , last time at gimnasio Pineda, but Viva El Frente Ortiz is THE MAN justy back from there last week FMLN will win,