Saturday, February 22, 2003

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY…
And the ridiculous

Friday 21, February 2003

Events this week have been a little bit crazy. It is difficult to try to make sense of all of it. While I was thinking on how to make my regular post I was reminded of the title of this famous western, to which I could not help but add the ridiculous addendum. I will not even try to give the chronological sequence of events, just describe the three scenes that justified the title. The ridiculous will show through occasionally.

THE GOOD: FROM EL FIRMAZO TO EL EXITAZO

The big sign up of February 2 (see Vignettes From El Firmazo) was rather successful and thus implied a certain delay in publishing the results. Of course, it is easier to count plain votes than to verify that all the people that have signed are registered voters, if they signed in the appropriate electoral district, etc… The first batch of signatures verified was the petition to support oil strike workers, signatures that were given to the negotiating team during the big rally in support of PDVSA (see A Feel good Moment). Less legal verification was required there, and since these signatures were collected in only a few states, it was easier to process everything.

Wednesday night the opposition organizations that collected these signatures made an official announcement with a nice simple ceremony. The results were, in my opinion, quite spectacular. Why? Well, the collection of signatures requires more involvement and motivation than just going to vote, where everything is organized for you, and machines count the votes. Here, people had to sacrifice part of a Sunday on something that might end up meaningless. Some had to sacrifice all of their Sunday to volunteer at the sign up stands. And to add more difficulty people did not benefit from the normal and convenient facilities of the electoral processes, that is, guarded schools, trained folks, army provided security, etc… Many had to set up a stand in the street, chavistas attacked some of these stands, etc… And let us not forget that you are stamping your name against a regime that in the future might use this act of freedom of expression against you.

Of course there is no point in going through all the results. The link to Sumate, the group in charge of verifying the signatures or Proveo for a quick summary, both in Spanish, will do. But the presentation is not that impacting so I will allow myself to try to convey the magnitude of what was achieved. One important comment. The numbers are for the signatures that have been screened by Sumate and that supposedly should withstand the screening of the electoral commission. So, even if one assumes that 20% will be invalidated one can see that the results are still impressive.

Chavez recall election. (For August 2003 at the latest for Carter proposal, and in the constitution). Note: delivery of some of the forms was problematic and some areas in Venezuela did not receive the recall election forms.

Votes that Chavez obtained in 2000 re-election 3.758 (60 % of voters with nearly 50% abstention!)
Valid signatures required for a recall election 2.293 (20 % of registered voters)
Total signatures gathered 3.236 (28 % of registered voters)

Astoundingly, the gathered signatures are 86 % of the votes obtained by Chavez at the height of his popularity, after a 6 months campaign. This time, the signatures were gathered in what was barely a couple of weeks of “campaign” with all sorts of troubles due to the strike effect and the government obstacles. It is no wonder that Chavez does not want to go to elections, this time not only he will not be favored by a large abstention like in 2002, but the radicalization of the electorate could bring about a rout.

Not impressed enough yet? Consider that in 7 states out of 24 more people signed than went to vote in 2000! What was counted there was the “hard” vote against Chavez, and a large movement away from him even in his strongholds.

Amendment of the constitution. This is to shorten the presidential term to 4 years and force a new election for president and national assembly. In this case, Chavez would be allowed to run again whereas if he were to lose the recall election he would be barred to run again at the next presidential election. The forms did make it to all the signature centers.

Valid signatures required for a constitutional referendum 1.795 (15 % of registered voters)
Total signatures gathered 3.668 (31 % of registered voters)
But there is a twist here, a few hundred signatures had been registered since the amendment was already in the works since mid 2002. If these signatures are added, we reach 4.426 (37 %).

The striking fact here is that this measure as a fall back option if the recall election were to be legally challenged (some government lawyers claim that signatures cannot be collected before August ) collected almost as many votes as what Chavez got in 2000. If forms had been delivered in a timely fashion for the recall petition, and circumstances had been less adverse there would have been more signatures collected than Chavez votes in 2000. The message is clear.

Now, for a reference point think about your country, think about what it would take to bring out 30% of the electorate in a single day to sign to kick out your head of state. In the US for example it takes a whole year of primaries, conventions and campaign to get a meager 50+ % of people that bother to vote.

Other results. There are more than enough signatures to ask for a revocation of the fast track enabling law of 2000 that was the trigger to the present situation. And there was enough signatures to ask for a recall election of 21 chavistas assembly folks, in many cases more signatures than the number of vote they actually got! Thus, a recall election is almost certain to remove from office more than the 4 that are needed to have Chavez lose his majority at the National Assembly. He used to have a 2/3 majority but he has been slowly but surely losing support to the point of having a very slender majority left.

El Firmazo has truly been El Exitazo, "The Big Success"

As it turns out this event in the middle of the week was to be the turning element. I will start with the “bad” in my next post.

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