Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The Complexity of Regional Elections in Venezuela

This oxymoronic title introduces my attempt at trying to paint as briefly as I can the diverse aspects of the regional elections in Venezuela. I will organize this in two parts:

The elements that shape these regional elections, discussed below

The predictions state by state, discussed in a subsequent post
_________________________

THE DETERMINANTS OF THE VENEZUELAN REGIONAL ELECTIONS

The chavismo set up

In most states Chavez has set up himself the candidates, and sometimes he also seems the one running the campaign. The reason is very simple: he wants governors, and mayors, that will follow strictly his orders. Chavez does not like decentralization as he thinks that being the "leader" of the revolution, "his benevolency" must be the sole provider of the "beloved" people. Governors are the people that mail the checks and take the blame.

Unfortunately for Chavez, the brief history of Venezuelan decentralization process has been long enough to convince a majority of the Venezuelan population that day to day problems are solved much better by local authorities than by some bureaucrat in Caracas. And that is affecting the pro Chavez candidates up to a point, in particular the ones that Chavez has picked out of nowhere to lead his troops. The case of Zulia where a military whose only claim to fame was taking the Pilin Leon tanker in January 2003 is a particularly daunting set back for Chavez as his candidate is still trailing almost 2 to 1!

But the authoritarian way to decide candidates by Chavez has other side effects. Chavismo is a rather heterochromatic alluvial compost of leftist movements, and, early on at least, right wing and democratic factors. Thus, in some locales the decisions of El Supremo have not been well received and "dissident" candidatures, usually to the left of the Chavez nominee, have sprouted. Their effect is hard to evaluate with polls as electors on this side of the spectrum are rather hard to reach, and rather secretive.

The referendum after shock

Winning, fraudulently or not, has been good for Chavez. Indeed, we are a country that loves to be with "the winner", deservedly or not. We root for Brazil at world soccer cup just to be able to shout "We won! We won!" Vicariousness is thy name!

This been said, we are also a country of cross voters. In my very own Yaracuy, a rather backward state some would say, Chavez won handily in 2000, but Lapi won handily his reelection trashing the pro Chavez candidate (who, admittedly, was a rather lousy candidate). The question is of course whether the August 15 afterglow will compensate the cross voting habit. Or even if the August 15 possible fraud might tarnish that Chavez advantage.

The convalescing opposition

The opposition never fully recovered from August 15. Nor would have that been possible in such a short time. Also, what was worse than losing was the lack of alternative strategies which left the opposition completely adrift. Eventually some steps were taken. The Coordinadora Democratica, CD, initiated its slow demise while the decisions were transferred to the local office holders, the ones that had to run their campaigns. A few more months and the local leadership would have been able to distance themselves from the failed CD effort on August. But as it is, it will have to do with October 31.

The electoral fraud debate

There are two debates actually. The first one is the debate on the August 15 fraud. This one unfortunately has not received all the support that it should have gotten, certain organization being more worried in negotiating some quota (or is that shreds?) of power with the thugs in charge. This ambiguity within the opposition has been deadly. No serious politician came out to say that the August 15 result was legitimate. But too many leaders were too comfortable in letting others take the brunt of the blame, or put up a weak defense of their case. The reasons are difficult to understand. Either there was fraud or not. If a political group is convinced that there was fraud but it is not willing to take action, what kind of messages does this send to the voter? An explanation of this contradiction is finally appearing.

The main issue of the present election is a direct consequence of the August 15 likely fraud, namely the fraudulent electoral registry, REP. The CNE has done its outmost to block investigation and revision. The opposition has made it, at least for a while, its sine qua non condition. This has aggravated the campaign problems and distressed the people strengthening a pro-abstention movement. It is easy to understand that with a fraud claim unresolved with an intransigent and arrogant CNE who does not even get its 5th member renewed, there is little trust in fair elections. So, why bother voting?

AD’s game

The reactions to the Tulio Alvarez report and his predictions that the opposition would lose at least half of the cities and districts it controls now just due to the REP irregularities, not mentioning the misiones, has finally brought the necessary clues to understand the games being played within the opposition.

Through August and September, the referendum numbers, whether clean or not, indicated one certain: if the opposition did not manage to unite in the critical districts Chavez candidates would win hands down. That electoral unity has been impossible to achieve and only in October, as the Alvarez report became a political reality, have some efforts been made to that effect. Why was unity, in the face of so much adverse evidence, so difficult to achieve?

The answer is AD who as the grand old party of sorts in Venezuela, the inventor of petro-populism, has been unable to change with the times. Even the Chavez disaster does not seem to have dented its arrogance and stubbornness. After the August debacle, an AD that denounced fraud on the 16, was one week after announcing that it would go to the elections as if nothing. AD has never been bothered by contradictions.

My speculation is that AD decided long ago that the country was perhaps against Chavez but that it would not go and expose itself anymore to unseat him. The momentum was definitely gone on August 16. If there is one thing that has characterized AD through its history is pragmatism and survival skills. They simply decided that Chavez was here for a few more years and that they better got ready for that time. The first thing to do was to become the main opposition party, preferably the only one as during the good old days of AD/Copei. No need for unity pacts, it was now more important to be the sole survivor than to take states away from Chavez. And Primero Justicia, PJ, was the main obstacle before that goal

As a result, PJ who would have done a more principled stand against the CNE and Chavez, realized that it would become the victim of both chavismo and the Adecos who share a profound dislike for the new brand of responsible politics that PJ embraces. PJ was thus forced to hit the campaign trail and try to avoid its early demise at the hands of wily and totally unscrupulous politicians, be them from AD or from chavismo.

The campaign as such

The campaign has become a struggle between AD and PJ, usually indirectly through allies. Everyday it becomes clearer that AD forced the issue on who will lead the opposition after October 31. And this will probably have devastating consequences for the opposition as a whole. In particular for the MAS, Copei and other minor forces from the past who quite often are forced into alliances with AD in the hope to preserve something of their past glories.

Chavismo is actually not being any wiser. The idea of using the opposition divisions to try to get all the states has actually weakened its cause. Political greed promoted internal divisions that are unresolved and that will come back to haunt Chavez after the 31, as the militant left is very upset with the chosen candidates. The specter of hegemony might have actually resulted in a slow re-motivation of the opposition. The talk of fraud is not good for chavismo either as some of its electors might decide not to go and vote since their candidate is certain to win.

The end result is a lackluster campaign. A few postcards.

  • a wicked and discredited CNE does not even put the pretense of fairness as it leaves Chavez do stuff for his candidates that would impeach him promptly in ANY civilized country
  • a CNE who for three weeks now has been giving us a 2 minutes cadena every hour in a futile attempt to convince the people that the very complex voting system they set up is "easy" to do
  • a CNE who puts his cadenas all the time except when Chavez campaigns live on the state TV
  • a congested and sweaty Chavez visibly upset at having to rescue all his candidates, feeling lonelier than ever, berating his humblest followers in public! Asking them to go away because they come to him with their grievances! (it is long gone the time wen Chavez accepted paper notes from his adoring crowds!)
  • a prostrated opposition who only reacted the second week of October when Chavez had been campaigning fast and furious since August 16
  • a very single march of a few thousand people when hundred of thousand hit the street on a whim
  • a chavismo that can only fill its rallies if Chavez attends

    and so many more images of a politically deadened country... The end of an era, for all the players.

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