Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Complexity of Regional Elections in Venezuela (part 2)

HAZARDOUS PREDICTIONS IN THE VENEZUELAN REGIONAL ELECTIONS

From the preceding post the reader should have gained a clearer idea that the Venezuelan regional elections are particularly complex even though the results are rather predictable. I have thus, to the better of my knowledge, tried to give in the table below a prediction of the local results and the why of my prediction for each Venezuelan state. These predictions are of course based on the parameters listed in the previous post. In a way it is rather an optimistic prediction as I hope that the opposition will manage to rally at the very last minute and retain all of its states except for 1 or 2. It might even be able to pick up a couple of chavista states which should be a great help for future plans, in particular if it picks up Tachira. Overall, status quo is the very best we can hope on state houses. But at the municipal level it is a whole different story.

Cities and districts predictions

A prediction that I cannot make in detail is the result on the town halls. That is where the electoral fraud at the level of the Electoral Registry, REP, will be felt the most. The opposition has been unable to have the CNE budge on this. In other words, we are going to elections knowing full well that the deck is stacked against us and hoping that legally at some point we might force new elections on some districts.

What is about to happen at the level of municipal districts is nothing short of a disaster. Up to 100 town halls will go to the Chavez site, which is a shift of about 30% of town halls in Venezuela. That is, on November 1st up to 70% of Venezuelans might wake up with a pro Chavez mayor. This will be particularly dramatic in some states such as Falcon which with 25 districts might go from 4 pro Chavez to 20+!

But there is always a silver lining: AD and Copei will be the main losers there as 3/4 of the town halls about to be lost are in their hands. Whatever bite is left for these parties might be lost and we can only better off for that on the long run. On the short run it will be a disaster as thousand of public employees will become jobless and as the now proverbial inefficiency of chavista mayors will be visited on 3/4 of the national population. It is to be hoped that the lost town halls will at least provoke the needed shake up within AD and that this one will finally decide that Chavez is bad news for them no matter what deals they make in dark rooms (Copei is all but dead). Unfortunately there is no reason to be optimistic on this point.

To end this section, most large cities from either side are not expected to change hands, except for Caracas at large. There the SI vote was stronger and the misiones effect not as convincing.

State projections

I have made an effort on this table, creating links to go back and forth between the sates and the predictions, thus the reader can read only the states s/he might care about. The table is also organized in a way that I hope will allow people to follow the results on November first, if they are not too depressed to do so. Maybe we could make a pool and bet on the resutls :-)

First I have listed all the Chavez states currently run by a chavista governor. They are sorted according to the percentile total of the SI vote on August 15. This way the chavista sates are listed according to maximum vulnerability.

The opposition held states are then listed and sorted according to the NO vote. That way it is easy to see which are the theoretically more vulnerable states first.

The last two columns, Oct-04 and Nov-04, have a color code: in red for chavista states and purple for opposition states. In the last column the expected result are indicated in red or purple and in pink for states with a slight chance to go/stay Chavez, mauve if there is a slight chance to go/stay opposition.

As a side comment, to illustrate the predilection of Chavez for the military over the civilian, in the Oct-04 column I have put a mark when the chavista sitting governor (**) and/or the chavista challenger (*) was in the army. Pretty good illustration on Chavez plans to militarize all institutions, pretty good way to suggest that we are already in a "legal" military autocracy.

Finally I have inserted two column that list which states have major divisions within the opposition candidacies, and which ones are more subject to be a victim of significant opposition abstention.

In the comments that follows the link to each state I have put links from El Universal that have helped me write the blurb I wrote for each state. Sometimes I think that El Universal is rather ill informed about the provinces, but that is why your obliging blogger supplements El Universal comments when he can.

Table of expected results of October 31 (if there is no electoral fraud, otherwise all bets are off)
StatesRecall Election vote

Opposition unity

Abstention effect on opposition

Oct-04

Nov-04
SINO
Nueva Esparta5050yesslight
Tachira4951nosome**
Merida 4654no?**
Falcon4257nono**
Vargas 3664nosome**
Lara3565nosome**
Cojedes 3367yesno**
Sucre3367nono
Trujillo 3366nono**
Aragua3268maybeyes
Barinas3069nono
Amazonas 2970no electionno
Delta Amacuro2970nono
Guarico 2971yesno
Portuguesa2673no?
Apure3268no?*
Bolivar3366yes?**
Monagas 3961yes?
Yaracuy3960noslight
Carabobo 4357noyes*
Distrito Capital4456yesYES!
Anzoategui4554yessome
Zulia 4753yes?*
Miranda4951yesyes*

Comments by geographical areas

The Eastern "oriental" states

Nueva Esparta is a state that lives mostly from tourism, and a tax free (shopping) port. It has been particularly hard hit by the continuous devaluations, currency exchange controls and economic permanent recession. Thus it is not surprising that it is the state where the SI reached its highest percentage, the only one where it actually won! Its controversial, inefficient and subservient pro-Chavez governor should get the boot and Margarita island is the almost certain chavista state to go to the opposition, which distresses greatly Chavez to the point of doing one of the longest "Alo Presidente" on the record, with empty promises galore, with burning buildings as a background. {back}


In Anzoategui a previous division of the opposition has been now settled in favor of AD. Thus the opposition has a chance to retain the state house though with a different governor. In that state there was a PJ/AD fight and it is difficult to predict how this will affect the outcome. Things that complicate the panorama is that Anzoategui has been hurt by the oil strike which has been very divisive. And the chavista candidate, Tarek Saab who has been refused a US visa and in other times was a real human rights defender, has had trouble to establish his leadership, though he is well known nationally. {back}

Monagas is another state duly affected by the oil strike. But one where foreign companies are allowed to operate and thus its effects are mixed. Governor Call is alone and so is the chavista candidate. Chavez has invested a lot trying in part to compensate his failures in Zulia by taking the other two oil states of Anzoategui and Monagas. But Monagas is one of those states that tend to vote either "for the government" or for tradition. Thus, if Chavez has a chance to unseat Call, this low key old fashioned governor has a real chance to retain its seat, even though the NO vote was very high. But Call could be helped by the rather controversial chavista candidate who failed in the past at trying to get the state house. {back}

Sucre, arguably one of the most beautiful areas of Venezuela, is one of the poorest areas in the country. It did not use to be so but its ex-centric position leaves it far from the commercial routes and the oil industry, leaving only tourism and agriculture as its main sources of revenues. In addition it had a very troubled political life, going as far as launching mobs to burn down the state capitol in 1999. The current governor Martinez acts more like a capo di mafia than an actual governor. He was ousted once because of his poor response from the Cariaco earthquake where it was rumored that he pocketed some of the relief money. But he threw his lot with Chavez and made a surprising come back in 2000. He did not hesitate in leaving the MAS when this one broke ranks with chavismo and has remained one of the main adulators of the president. This seems to have paid off: misiones flowed in, Sucre got a hefty NO vote and AD is the shadow of what it used to be there. This unsavory governor, if crafty politician, has the good luck to have a divided opposition in front of him, divided enough that he can even ignore a pro-Chavez dissidence that could still diminish what should have been a comfortable victory. {back}

The central States

Vargas is the ravaged state of the 1999 rain disaster. It has never recovered fully and the present governor does serve as a blank to many a critic. Still, he is one of the most devoted of Chavez followers, a very frequent guest to many a public event where one wonders what the heck he is doing there. His star might have started to fade some. He is not as often behind Chavez as he probably has to catch up with his work in Vargas. The opposition, even though very divided, has managed to put some credible challenges. A certain consolidation in the last few days around a single candidate, Roberto Smith, might be too late and should still allow Rodriguez to retain his seat. {back}

Carabobo has union in both camps except for a dissident against Salas Feo. But the Salas dynasty has worked really hard and Carabobo is reputed as one of the best run states. In the 2000 election extensive cross over voting took place and there is no reason why it should not happen again, thus compensating a surprisingly high NO vote. The ex-military running for Chavez, Acosta Carles, is the famous military of the burp! He raises much instinctive dislike and does not seem to have mobilized the chavista base. Yet his job creation proposals are rather creative, such as using dwarfs to create a theme park on the Snow white story. It will all depend on whether the abstention will affect Carabobo and whether the opposition dissident manages to take away enough of Salas Feo votes, though he might also be siphoning some of the chavista vote. One thing that helps Salas Feo is that the industrial might of Carabobo has been deeply hurt by Chavez policies, and people are aware of that. The misiones might not have been as effective in garnering sympathies for Acosta Carles. Carabobo is really a good test state to check for August fraud and the real implications of Chavez policies, assuming of course that there is no fraud on October 31. {back}

Caracas Mayor at large is the great disaster for the opposition, the best example of self destruction it has shown all along since April 2002. After having hesitated for a long time to support the reelection effort of Alfredo Peña, the sitting mayor elected on Chavez lists and now a bitter enemy, all but AD rallied behind him. AD, breaking ranks, had Claudio Fermin run, a very discredited candidate himself. Chavismo did postulate Juan Barreto, perhaps its worst option for Caracas when one considers that several other more palatable options were available. A few days ago, even though leading at polls, Peña surprised all by withdrawing from the race and leaving Fermin and Barreto fight it out alone, a most distasteful choice for a majority of the population! It seems very unlikely, and barely more desirable, that Fermin takes over Barreto in the very few days of campaign left. Thus Peña probably handed Caracas on a silver platter to chavismo! This can only be considered as an irresponsible act from Peña who did not even offer an alternative protest action to fight the electoral fraud that he used as an excuse for withdrawing. Unless of course Peña is trying to obtain forgiveness from chavismo so as to go back peacefully to journalism... {back}

Miranda is the basket case of the opposition. Once an inexpugnable fortress it has suddenly become very vulnerable. Even though there is only two candidates, the opposition having had no problem to unite behind Enrique Mendoza, the defeat of August 15 has been placed on Mendoza and the opposition threatens major abstention in the Caracas areas that Mendoza needs to fight back from Tuy Valley areas where chavismo fares better. However people have not forgotten his rather good administration and chavismo has not been able to pin on him any misdeed except for being the leader of the opposition. Unfortunately for Mendoza, Diosdado Cabello, the chavista candidate has been campaigning for now a year and although very far in early polls he has been able to climb steadily by identifying closely to the misiones, questioning Mendoza character and sexual preferences, and by being one of the very few chavistas that is not totally under the shadow of Chavez. He even is considered coming from the "manager" wing of chavismo, whatever that might mean. This has played well in the areas outside of Caracas where he leads in some districts! It will all depend on how the abstention operates though recent polls seem to indicate that Mendoza is tightening the race again with a series of political adds that show his old combative self. {back}

Aragua is the only industrial state still held by chavismo. Its NO score was good but the local governor who was reelected in 2000 with the highest percentage in the country (70% +) does not have it as easy this time. The problems of Didalco Bolivar come that he rather reluctantly embraced Chavez when the MAS left the coalition, and all remember this. Chavez was even rumored to consider someone else. Didalco Bolivar followed Chavez for very pragmatical reasons: he wanted the monies to keep coming to Aragua and he was aware that as the main military state in the country, his life would be made miserable by the soldiers that would have to follow orders to hinder his administration. But the harder than expected recession has ravaged the industrial tissue of Aragua and Didalco bears the brunt, unfairly has he is the only chavista governor whose administration has successes recognized by all sides. Even an army officer has mounted a pro Chavez dissidence that is apparently higher in the polls than the sitting governor would like. To complicate matters, the wife of Didalco's predecessor, Margarita Tablante, has managed to mount a credible bid and slowly but surely has rallied most of the opposition groups around her. Still, Didalco Bolivar was so strong in the past that he should have enough reserves to manage to survive easily, but he could lose his majority at the state council and maybe even a townhall or two. {back}

The Andes states

Trujillo is another poor and backward state, and the preserve of AD and Copei, that is, until Chavez came. It is a state where the misiones have made quite an impact. The opposition squabbling has been enough to ensure the re-election of the sitting governor in spite of a few scandals such as a police strike a couple of years ago and a coming teachers' strike. I am not even aware of Chavez planning to visit Trujillo during the campaign, so confident they are of retaining this state. On the radar of Trujillo, the new political forces are not even a blip as all is a sterile battle between AD and Copei. {back}

Merida should have been an easy pick for the opposition. Even though the NO vote was higher than expected, at 54% it was way below the national average. The sitting governor, Porras, is very disliked in spite of the misiones, and carries the albatross of having been elected in 2000 under fraudulent conditions, the most scandalous affair of these elections! He retained the nomination because Chavez said so. But the opposition managed to blow it by running two separate candidacies, both strong ones, from the ex governor with a victim aura and the Merida mayor who seems to have a decent record. Again, AD has been the wedge in the state as the ex-governor was expelled of AD in 2001 for protesting its internal autocracy. One can hope that a last minute arrangement might make the opposition catch up and win but it seems very unlikely. {back}

Tachira is a difficult state for both sides. Its ex governor "El Cura" Calderon was ousted in 2000 under a cloud of electoral fraud favoring the chavista candidate, Blanco La Cruz, a coup monger of 1992 and a Chavez radical. Since then the state has fallen prey to the Colombian guerrilla, the kidnapping industry, the decrease in trade between Venezuela and Colombia and what not. The political struggle has never relented and Calderon is trying this time to come back with a vengeance. Many in Tachira do not like him but still will probably rally behind him as the best option to unseat Blanco La Cruz. Thus an atomized opposition is slowly decanting in favor of Calderon and it remains to be seen if this one rallied the troops or if Blanco La Cruz did manage to benefit from the misiones enough to overcome his poor record as a governor more interested in politics than in efficient administration. Though the fact that Tachira was the second highest state in SI vote percentage indicates that it stands a good chance to go to Calderon. Local polls show a dead heat. Again, the division within the opposition will be the cause of that loss. {back}

The Guayana states

Bolivar is an interesting case. The governor is an ex chavista, with a reasonable if questioned record, associated with the 1992 coups. But now he is running against Chavez in perhaps the only state that actually has benefited from the Chavez administration as it is loaded with state enterprises. Chavez, who has never seen a state enterprise he did not like, has kept them afloat with huge subsidies and thus has created a fake prosperity. The NO vote reflects this and makes the task even more difficult for the sitting governor in a state where cross voting is less likely. The dissidents on both sides are non factors though the chavista candidate does not have a hearty support from the base as he is considered too moderate for a state with militant union tradition. {back}

Delta Amacuro is a shoo in as the governor even benefits of the support of some of one of the opposition parties! In this rather backward and poor state, the opposition manages to split in 4 candidates, increasing even further the reelection chances of one of the two female governor of Venezuela. {back}

Amazonas is an indigenous state, far from everything, with the particularity of having its governor elections in a few months (terms have to be for 4 years, and the 2000 election was annulled). Still, chavismo should win easily there as it is pragmatically a pro-government state, no matter who is in charge in Caracas. If you add to this the pro Native-American rhetoric of Chavez, it is a safe state for him. {back}

The "Llanos" states

In Guarico the opposition has managed to set up a common front. But the local governor, a Chavez allied if not directly in Chavez party, has a reasonable administration record. Though his quite confrontational style has garnered him a lot of enemies. His administration is also considered corrupt. Still, it should remain in the Chavez camp without trouble, in particular when one sees the large NO vote which should compensate any crossover voting. {back}

In Barinas the Chavez clan has taken over. Nepotism and corruption are main complaints, but Chavez has spent lavishly. Chavismo dominates in spite of a poor administration by Chavez daddy, old and ineffective. In addition the opposition is divided so it is not helping its chances. {back}

Apure is an interesting case where an AD governor is now out of AD and supported by Primero Justicia. Both sides have failed in unifying candidacies so all is possible although it seems that the present governor and the ex pro Chavez governor should catch most votes. The opposition could retain that state, if barely, considering the large NO vote! {back}

Cojedes has the curiosity to have 4 chavista candidates and a perfect union within the opposition. But the actual governor seems to have gained most sympathies and all rests on how fractionated the chavista vote will remain. A difficult but not impossible pick for the opposition though its candidate is too linked to the past. Also, like most rural states, the misiones have improved chavismo chances, as seen from the NO vote. {back}

Portuguesa is the granary of Venezuela. It is also a state with a strong tradition of leftist parties who went easily over to Chavez but who also present him with a serious division this time around. "La Negra" Muñoz has not been a very convincing a governor and even with the backing of Chavez and a very high NO vote in August, finds herself on a tight rope as her left flank cannot be relied on. The opposition has managed unity around Colmenares, an ex governor that was pro Chavez in the days when the MAS supported Chavez. But chavismo who first supported Colmenares and then Muñoz is paying the price. Still, it is a state that should remain for Chavez, if barely. {back}

Zulia and the MidWest (Centro Occidente)

In Zulia the situation is clearer. Manuel Rosales has emerged as one of the strong leaders of the opposition as he has managed to sever his ties with the pre-Chavez era, even though he was AD. His strategy was in part to confront Chavez directly during the oil strike of 2002, appealing to strong regional sentiment. And his administration was not too bad either, though not shining. He is greatly helped by the chavista candidate, General Guttierez, whose claim to fame is to have jumped on board of the Pilin Leon tanker during the oil strike to arrest the striking crew. This high feat of revolutionary glory won him the Zulia candidacy though he is not from Zulia, a rather crucial defect in a very "regionalist" and proud state. He is seen as such a carpetbagger that he is rumored not to be able to find his way through Maracaibo streets. In spite of all of Chavez efforts he is still trailing badly at the polls, while the local chavistas fail to give him more than lip service support. The importance of Zulia, politically and ideologically for Chavez cannot be underestimated as he is threatening to put Rosales in jail for signing the Carmona decree while promoting one of the dirtiest campaign in recent memory. But independent minded Zulia is very difficult to manipulate as more than one Caracas politician found out. Zulia might end up becoming for chavismo the disaster that Caracas will be for the opposition, and a strong Rosales victory could make him the new opposition leader, with a 2006 window! {back}

Falcon has been a state very affected by the maelstrom of politics, in particular during the strike. It also has a significant chavista dissidence as an ex companion of Chavez coup in 1992, who after fighting with Chavez failed to return in his good graces. He is now running against the sitting governor, Montilla, also issued from the army barracks. Falcon is a particularly varied state, from desertic Paraguana to the humid cattle rich land of the Tucacas area. Somehow Montilla has managed to establish a strong leadership and is poised to take most of town halls from the hands of the opposition. As a very rural and disperse state the misiones have been very effective there in improving Montilla standing. Not to mention the divisions between the opposition. This is really a state where a united opposition might have made a difference and the chavismo dissidence is probably not enough to helpt it unseat Montilla. {back}

Lara is a state that could have gone to the opposition, surprisingly, in spite of a high NO vote, due to a rather disliked and ineffective chavista governor, Reyes Reyes. But an unsolvable division within the opposition ranks ensures a victory for the sitting governor. His meager success comes from whatever Chavez has brought to Lara and his, forced, association with the more successful mayor of Barquisimeto who represents more than a third of the votes, and who was "convinced" not to run for governor. The opposition division is a pity because ex governor Orlando Fernandez was a much better governor than Reyes Reyes. But the AD candidate, Mariano Navarro, has been intractable and remains in the race even though Orlando Fernandez is higher in the polls. As a result this division might even encourage a higher abstention thus sinking definitively the chances of the opposition even as the other minor candidates withdrew. On November first, it will be one of the harder explanations that AD will have to provide. {back}

Yaracuy, the home state of this blogger, is apparently complex. The governor, Eduardo Lapi, has run afoul from the opposition traditional leadership and is paying the price with a dissident candidacy backed to the outmost by AD and Copei who do not forgive him to have almost singlehandedly made them irrelevant in a rural state that they once controlled totally once. Not to mention that he become a nationally known leader when he became one of the members of the negotiating team late 2002. Caracas old pols do not fogive having to share TV sets with the natives. On the other hand Lapi benefits from the support of all the newer opposition forces, making Yaracuy a classic fight between old style politics and new style politics. However, in spite of the opposition division, Lapi is greatly helped by the chavista candidate who was probably the worst option available for chavismo. Gimenez was the mayor of La Independencia and his administration has been very criticized as too politicized, inefficient, rather corrupt and rife with nepotism and "friends", which bars him from criticizing Lapi for the same provincial sins. Thus, even if Lapi is perceived as an authoritarian, Chavez style, his efficient management of the state should allow him to repeat in spite of a hefty NO vote in August. {back}

PS: As this post has a significant amount of information, some being the "perception" of this blogger who cannot follow closely what goes on in every nook and cranny of this country, mistakes and omissions might have been made. But I am more than willing to correct them and add new info that readers might have. It is thus an "open post" that the reader might want to check back later.

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