If political analyst Claudio Alpizar is right, the tone of at least the three front runners in the February Presidential elections will get more aggressive and personal as the campaign progresses. It is unlikely to get downright dirty because the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) is set up to control that.
The three front runners, according to the most recent polls, are Jose Maria Villalta of Broad Front Party, Johnny Araya of National Liberation and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement. Alpizar says he detects the three leaders turning the heat up already.
“Given the current panorama,” analyst Francisco Barahona told the national newspaper La Nacion, “at least three or four candidates have possibilities to fight out the Presidential election.” But Barahona feels that a negative campaign could actually cripple the contender who uses those tactics.
Indeed, Alpizar actually foresees the a “dirty campaign” forming among the three leaders, Villalta, Guavara and Araya. A political “cease fire” is being observed by the candidates beginning Dec. 16, but Alpizar detects adjustment in stance by the contenders.
He notes that Araya, for example, abandoned the lackluster “contract me” plea in his paid advertising for an appeal to his Liberationist base to support the party. “The fact that (Liberation) decided to change ad agencies in mid stream shows that they saw poor results,” Alpizar says.
On the contrary, Barahona feels that in January, we will see the campaign take a third path between promises and attack. He expects the candidates not to play on the increasing voter disenchantment with politicians and government by resorting to a negative campaign that will turn them off even more.
Instead, he expects that the debates will take on an importance not seen in the past and the candidate able to defend his political position best will gain the greatest headway.
Commentary: It is true that campaign advertising has not been the best this year. Voters have a clear choice of positions: Villalta on the far left, Guevara on the far right with Araya on the center-left. Simply saying “Vote for me” as the old Araya ad campaign urged just won’t do it.
Villalta has taken the most intrepid position, proposing reforms and changes that are easy to attack. But he must convince wary voters that he is not an extremist, ready to set up a neo-Communist government. While the other candidates have been loath to stick their necks out, Villalta has not.
Guevara the Libertarian, is probably the most intelligent and capable of the three but he has exactly the opposite problem — he must convince voters who have become accustomed to paternalistic government that he will not close down Social Security and such vital programs.
Araya, of course, is carrying the weight of his party’s hapless Administration on his back and has gone as far as he can to distance himself from it without offending his own base. It is the same weight that Sen. John McCain carried into the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, the George W. Bush handicap, and lost.
Further making life difficult for candidates is the fact that they are so many and the selection has come to resemble the vegetable racks at the supermarket–which head of lettuce is the biggest, weighiest and offers the most flavor for the salad–the latter we use as a symbol of the Legislative Assembly.
The salad has a wide variety but, other than the extremes such as leftist Wide Front and righst Libertarians, most have the same flavor. We note that La Nacion has largely given up trying to keep track of the smaller parties and has concentrated on the Big Three. If the trend toward more and smaller parties continues, the Elections Tribunal may have to widen the slot in the ballot box.