As El Salvador’s March 9th runoff election between the leftist FMLN and right-wing ARENA approaches, both parties are honing their campaign strategies. As the FMLN looks to increase the 10-point margin of victory over ARENA achieved in the first round of elections on February 2nd through new cross-sector alliances, ARENA is scrambling to recover from receiving the fewest votes since the party’s founding over 30 years ago.
The FMLN has maintained its positive publicity campaign. According to Blancaflor Bonilla of the FMLN International Relations Secretariat, the party is focusing on courting the 37% of eligible voters who did not vote on February 2nd, as well as reaching out to different sectors and movements that supported UNIDAD candidate Tony Saca, who received 12% of the vote on February 2, to form strategic alliances. However, as Roberto Lorenzana, Secretary of Communications for the FMLN, said on Mayavision Radio, “We’re not talking about [handing out] positions in the government, we’re talking about […] things we could work together on in the government platform.” Lorenzana added that the effort to reach out to other parties is necessary as, once in power, the FMLN intends to create a government that responds to the needs of a broad political spectrum.
The leadership of the three smaller parties that made up the UNIDAD coalition has announced that they will not officially endorse any candidate, but many mayors from these parties have opened discussions with and even officially endorsed the FMLN ticket. Others have a clear distaste for the ARENA ticket but are hesitant to endorse the FMLN. When the mayor of San Miguel, Wil Salgado, a member of Saca’s GANA party, was asked about the decision to remain neutral during the second round of elections, he had this to say: “If we support the right, we’d lose territory [….] If we support the left, we run the risk of […] of getting rid of the fear of voting for the reds,” explaining that this could negatively impact the party’s prospects for the 2015 legislative and municipal elections.
ARENA, meanwhile, is trying to consolidate its base and has been engaging in a heavy internal evaluation process to scrutinize is historic loss at the polls on Febrary 2nd. This process has resulted in the firings of the campaign’s event manager and its publicity company, and has led to much public finger-pointing among ARENA leaders, particularly in the direction of former ARENA president and Quijano campaign advisor Francisco Flores, whose messy $10 million embezzlement investigation likely cost the party a substantial number of votes. Many ARENA leaders, including founder Roberto Ávila and Ahuachapán Mayor Rafael Morán, have even called for a complete overhaul of the party if it loses again on March 9th.
ARENA’s national publicity campaign appears to have toned down its fear-mongering, shifting away from dire warnings of a reign of violence and crime under an FMLN government to a jovial cooptation of the social programs initiated under the current Funes administration. On an international stage, however, ARENA’s US allies have pulled no punches in ramping up Cold War-style red baiting, as evidenced by Jim Demint’s recent article in the Miami Herald.
Political analysts and recent poll data seem to indicate that even with these efforts, an ARENA victory would be extremely unlikely in the second round. The latest CID Gallup poll, for instance, gives the FMLN a full 16-point lead over ARENA.