Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Venezuelan Regional elections of 2004: the collapse of AD

In the days following the regional elections of October 31, Ramos Allup, the Accion Democratica, AD, main leader was prompt in putting a good face to bad fortunes. Without quivering he said that AD was the second biggest political party of Venezuela and the only one with a national presence. Claim that was quickly picked up by some chavista spokes people.

Positively, I must say that part of this was true. Indeed, of all the opposition parties one could say that AD is the only political organization who managed to have at least 3-5% of votes in every single Venezuelan state. But in reality, AD has only 3-5% in too many states, which might not be so bad if it were not that it lost between 10 and 20% of the total vote share it held in most states. From a number that was already low since Chavez reached office.

The claim of Ramos Allup must be seen as just a face saving device and the support from some chavistas simply an expression of their desire to have stained AD in front of them instead of new political forces more difficult to put the blame on for everything that goes wrong with the country.

In the preceding post one could already see the weakness of AD in Caracas and how newcomers from the right or left were dwindling its electors fast. But the examination of the Lara outcome will speak volumes on how AD is in the gravest decline.

Lara’s political history

Lara is one of the 5 industrial states, meaning one of the five states that did contribute the most to the industrial output, which does not mean that it was indeed an industrial state in the Western World sense. In fact most of Lara is an arid to very arid land, living from meager cultures, goat raising and cash crops in the irrigated valleys. That need to control water, to control manpower for sugar cane fields in El Tocuyo, Carora or the Turbio valley created a rather harsh colonial history which in modern times made Lara a rather combative state where the left wing parties flourished in the second half of last century. First AD did have a significant strength, but with time the MAS and other leftist parties made great inroads until Barquisimeto town hall fell into its hand. Not to mention that Orlando Fernandez, a leftist dissident, made off with the state house and was well reelected in 1998.

It was to be expected that Chavez would carry out Lara in 1998, and ever since. What was more surprising was that AD will be nearly destroyed in the process and that chavista candidates gained reelection with outstanding margins even if some of them were less than deserving. What happened?

Lara’s industrial base was particularly hard hit by the Chavez economic recession. Its basic industries far from the only centers with still some economic life, sensitive to imports, left the industrial area of Lara as a giant cemetery of closed buildings. All of this in spite of very significant help from Caracas, in particular with a lavishly endowed Venezuelan biennial Games that in 2002 helped the construction sector greatly. The fact is that Lara’s governor, Luis Reyes since 2000, is a very ineffectual army pilot whose claim to fame is breaking the sound barrier over Caracas in 1992 supporting Chavez coup mongering. Reyes is graced with so little personality that he must resort to imitate Chavez ticks and style when he speaks, with little success this blogger must add. Certainly he was not the one person with vision and character to conduct Lara’s economic reconfiguration, or search for investor, or organize a regional development plan according to Lara well placed situation at a cross road between the Andes, Llanos and Zulia. Not that his predecessors were particularly more gifted in this regard.

At any rate Reyes reelection in normal circumstance would have been a very, very uphill battle. The only thing he can take to his credit is that he received quite a lot of chavista money through the misiones, particularly vigorous in Lara, the show case of chavismo and its one “must keep” state.

October’s surprise results

Like Chavez in 2002, Reyes would have been trashed then. Even the mayor of Barquisimeto would have been trashed then. But two years make a world of change, in particular when Henri Falcon, Barquisimeto’s mayor, smelled the coffee during the strike and decided that the best way to be reelected was to manage the city that elected him to do so. This blogger is a witness to the considerable improvements that Barquisimeto started to show AFTER December 2002. Certainly this explain why Falcon was the mayor reelected with the highest percentage in Venezuela, not to mention that the candidates filed to oppose him were not the best choices by far.

The opposition indeed went the very worst way possible. The natural candidate was a return of Orlando Fernandez. Not the best governor ever but well liked enough and able to get at the very least a 40% of the votes and help save a couple of districts along the way. But AD would have none of it. Instead it postulated again Mariano Navarro, the 2000 loser, a rather disliked politician with quite a whiff of corruption in his entourage. One unfortunate effect of this division, in addition of fostering abstention, was that many of Orlando electors from year past were more easily convinced of the “betrayal” of Orlando who had gone to support Chavez until sometime in 2003 when he decided that he could not take any more his authoritarian rule. The results became a complete rout for both Fernandez and Navarro.

In the below table I have put the 2004 and 2000 results, and the percentage of votes obtained (NOT the percentage of voters from the Electoral registry as I did in the previous post). Interestingly the CNE page has struck from its data base the complete 2000 returns, only leaving the percentage and vote of the winners (though it has FINALLY added the result of the overseas vote in the referendum, a beating of Chavez there!)

The first line indicates the Electoral registry count (REP). Amazingly the REP increased in a mere 4 years by 21 % in Lara!!! That must be worthy of consideration for the Guinness book!

Then I organize the votes of the opposition together where the contrast between the poor performance of Fernandez can be matched against the dismal Navarro performance. All of these of course compared to the SI vote on August 15 (RR). I have separated the individual political party vote on the state assembly representatives (blue frames). For good measure I have included the result of Primero Justicia (MPJ).

The same thing has been done for the Reyes vote and his party, Chavez MVR, in red frame. I have separated the Chavez allies of the minor parties, PPT, Podemos (a dissidence of MAS who use to rule in Lara) and the communist PCV. This way the complete take over of the MVR in Lara can be fully appreciated.

20042000
Lara REP904 455100%745 651100%
Lara SI RR229 26635%  
Orlando Fernandez73 71418.7%  
AD Navarro17 3074.3%  
OFM35 31211.1%15 6306.33%
AD97523.1%62 28925.2%
MPJ51881.6%  
Lara NO RR424 39464.8%  
Luis Reyes289 94573.5%225 27162.1%
MVR199 70762.9%123 78050.1%
PPT/PODEMOS/PCV18 2875.8%  


Clearly a drop of 20% in AD vote is catastrophic and should bring a little bit more modesty in its leaders. The remarkable improvement in Reyes vote is a surprise, difficult to explain except that chavismo is so identified in Lara with Chavez that this state has probably become the Yellow Dog Chavista state, as the deep South used to be for the US Democrats (1). Curiously in spite of a stunning defeat the very own party of Fernandez seems to have done better than in 2000 when he was at the head of a broader coalition.

But the biggest surprise of all is the gigantic difference between the SI vote and the total of Fernandez and Navarro: from 229 266 to less than 100 000 all tendencies combined! During the strike of 2002 it was a national surprise to observe that Barquisimeto thought of as a chavista safe area developed considerable marches against Chavez in Barquisimeto. Marches which by the way where the harshest repressed ones until Caracas on February 2004. Reyes does have a deficit too with the NO votes, but the gap is not as big percentage wise.

The Barquisimeto mayoral result

One explanation of the success of Reyes is the coat tail effect of mayor Falcon reelection, where he even managed to get some of the opposition votes. Which goes to prove that the best way to be reelected is to do your job. Chavez would be so lucky to ever get a 60 %, honestly…

Barquisimeto Mayor 20042000
Henri Falcon182 32986.3%111 92051.6%
AD candidate60002.8%  
MPJ candidate73513.4%  
Luis Reyes161 52875.1%  
Orlando Fernandez35 60916.5%  


It is notable that Falcon increase in vote share just for Barquisimeto is LARGER than the vote share increase of Reyes state wise! Even if Barquisimeto is nearly half of the Lara vote, it is still quite a feat! The coat tail effect is even clearer when one observes that percentage wise Fernandez does less than in all of Lara while Reyes does better. If Falcon does a half decent second term he is a shoo in for governor in 2008, with or without electoral fraud. Yellow Dog Chavistas with an efficient mayor, quite a deadly combination!

Conclusion

The collapse of AD, who did campaign hard and was unbending in refusing meger of candidatures, was not enough to stem abstention. Its ignominious collapse in Lara is of its own doing. Perhaps of all states the Lara opposition might be the most upset at the non pursuing of the fraud claim on August 15. After all, it was the opposition that had no protection from any local authority against thugs wrecking marches, not the case in Caracas, Valencia or Maracaibo. AD is seen as the silent mole in this sabotage of the opposition cause, justified or not, that is not the point. It thus paid a dear price in Lara where all districts are now solidly into the hands of chavismo and were tiny MPJ almost overtook AD in Barquisimeto.

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(1) It was said that some Southern districts were so Democrat that they could pick up a yellow dog from the street, register it as the Democrats's candidate and the mongrel would win the election. Things have changed now and looking at the reddening of Dixie one is allowed to wonder which animal the Republicans could run in the South :-)


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