Monday, March 08, 2004

The Left's Runoff Conundrum

The two leading parties in the March 21st presidential contest are ARENA and the FMLN. Things do not look good for the latter:

--If it is to survive electorally, the FMLN needs a second-round runoff (since no one even suggests that they might be able to win on the first round, whereas polls suggest that ARENA might win in the first round. (Check out these polls for yourself, through links on the right side of this web page.)

--The polls also suggest that ARENA would win by a wider margin in the second than in the first round.

--But if ARENA wins by such a large margin in the second round, then its mandate will be stronger than it would have been with only a minimal win in the first contest.

--So, assuming that ARENA is going to win (which the FMLN understandably refuses to accept, but which most observers do at this point), it might be better for ARENA to win in the first round, which would give them a weaker mandate and force them to reach out to the other political parties as they govern for the next five years.

--But if ARENA does win on the first round, then the FMLN will say the elections are rigged, and demand to recount every vote (sound familiar?) The stage is thus set: (1) Schafik has already warned that ARENA is setting a “trap” for election day, (2) almost half the public—according to the latest IUDOP poll—suspects there will be fraud in these elections, and (3) the FMLN base still thinks their man’s going to win, and are going to be pretty shocked when he does not.

--Which is why this electoral cycle will be far more peaceful if ARENA and the FMLN are forced into a runoff. For the second round, there will have been time to correct some of the irregularities that popped up in the first round, and which to some extent should be expected. But even if they are not, the margin of an ARENA victory is likely to be so great that these flaws will matter much less anyway.

--In the longterm, however, ARENA—if it wins in a second round—should let the strong showing of opposition parties in the first round give them pause, as did the results of the March 2003 legislative and municipal elections when they lost the popular vote to the FMLN for the first time ever.

As Roberto Rubio wrote in his column in today's La Prensa Gráfica, when the polls showed the FMLN ahead of ARENA a year ago, ARENA took it seriously, reoriented their strategies, and now they're reaping the rewards. One can only hope that ARENA will take the concerns of its citizens more seriously in spheres other than the electoral one, and translate them into more transparent and equitable public policies over the coming years.

A saber, pues.

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