Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Electoral Post

So, in spite of a certain reluctance, I feel compelled to write a post with my predictions on the Sunday result. But first let's look at my record so far.
  1. El Firmazo, February 2003. I predicted that the opposition would get plenty of signatures. It did, even though the CNE refused even to count them.
  2. El Reafirmazo, December 2003. No contest. I got the numbers and I called Chavez bluff ("El Megafraude"). Eventually the CNE managed to force a verification, "el Reparo", but the potential for enough signatures in spite of all the CNE tricks was there.
  3. After many set backs I felt that the people would dare to "repair" their signatures in spite of all of the pressures put on them by chavismo increasing undemocratic figure. I was right again.
  4. The Recall Election I missed. I really though the opposition would win but I underestimated the effect of the Misiones and the absolute lack of scruples of the government through the CNE to throw as many a wrench in the electoral process. Thus with more fraud than expected and more money spread around in the streets than I thought, I made that prediction mistake. Though I do contest that 59% number no matter what, at best for me it is 52 to 54%.
  5. October 31 predictions were already more subdued. I did state clearly my case that the opposition needed not expect a totally unfavorable result, but I was afraid of the role of the abstention. My cautious predictions were in part sustained and in part trashed, and when trashed because of a higher than expected abstention. Note that that time I did not include fraud as a major factor as the abstention of so many opposition folks would help the government. However I think that there was extensive fraud in at least one state, Carabobo.
Thus I can be rather proud of a three plus, one minus and one toss up result. Better than Chavez who only got August and October 2004 ?

But this time I will not predict much, sorry for those who might have liked me to encourage their hope, or to see me with egg on my face. However I will explain why.

The election Sunday and the campaigns

We are voting for municipal councils. Not even for mayor. Thus by definition these elections follow one or more of these parameters, everywhere in the world:
  • high abstention
  • strong local effect as to people political orientation as they are more likely to vote for a neighbor they know than a given political party
  • they might actually vote against a neighbor even if that candidate is running for their political party
  • there are lots of circumstantial alliances that depend on the areas, so it is much more difficult to discern a general pattern.
This being said, there is another factor that complicates any rational study on that election: it seems that Chavez is running for the town main square cleaning crew in every town of Venezuela. All chavista candidates have Chavez profiled in much bigger than themselves, when they even dare to put their own picture along.... The cult of personality as grown so much among chavismo that all is about Chavez; even the local speeches that I have heard from local candidates are more likely to mention the imminent invasion of Bush than what are the plans to improve garbage collection.

If you add to this the abstention campaign of large sectors of the opposition, one would be a fool to even dare predict a single council seat. But I am a fool.

The electoral fraud, this time

Well, it does exist, and you only need to look at the desperate last minute campaign of the Electoral Board to try to convince people to go to vote to realize how much the image of the CNE and the trust in elections have been damaged in Venezuela.

But we are not talking about actual real electoral fraud here. To begin with due to the complex nature of the vote, it would be rather difficult to make it in the large scale it was made in August 2004, Carter center notwithstanding. Second, chavismo would be hard pressed to invent votes if the abstention is huge, or if the vote is quite crossed, something that happensa lot in local election where many people are not as bound by party lines. In addition THIS time the CNE will allow political parties witnesses at the ballots and will open randomly at least one table at every voting center for some old fashioned ballot counting (Gee, why did they not do that in August 2004? Would we not be better off today if all ballots had been counted then, even if the victory margin would have been shortened some, no? But I have been expecting an answer from chavistas for so long on this that I have opted to start breathing again).

No, the fraud is elsewhere and gives a few points advantage to chavismo, and I estimate it to a built in 5% bonus at the very least. Here some examples, in no particular order. For extensive details on some of the following points the reader is invited to visit my long post on the matter, a month ago.
  • No control on the finances for the electoral campaign. Chavismo uses freely all the resources it wants. The opposition does not have access to even a fraction of what chavismo has; and let's not discuss the constant blackmail of "if you do not vote for me you will not get access to mission so and so anymore".
  • On voting day of course all sorts of public transportation and freebees will be at the service of the chavista candidates. Opposition voters will have to pay for their bus or their gas to go to vote.
  • The electoral registry has never been cleaned, even AFTER ALMOST A YEAR FROM THE RECALL ELECTION where among other things we saw famous Colombian guerilla vote. So who can know who can vote twice, or who can vote altogether.
  • This also plays against the opposition campaigns as many voters have been moved to other voting centers and the opposition has not been able to access these files (which the chavistas of course did get). Thus making it more difficult to target voters and what not, or even know exactly how many electros are in your district, something quite crucial in small scale elections like those this Sunday.
  • Systematic irregularities favoring the chavista parties, such as deadlines conveniently moved, or requirements for registration skipped. The most infamous one is that the main, newly made political pseudo party created just to take advantage of the perversion of the electoral system. As I described a month ago in a detailed set of tables, running under two names allow a political movement to win 80% of the seats at stake with barely more than 50% of the candidate. The approval today of UVE has to be one of the sleaziest maneuvers of the CNE, who has already a distinguished career of sleaze since it was settled two years ago. This approval breaks so many rules, is so unethical, that it should give pause to ANY serious electoral observer as to how sold out the CNE is.
And much more details but for that you can visit the Sumate pages or any serious paper in Venezuela.

The consequences

Besides a strong abstention prediction, one consequence of such a sleazy, unethical, corrupt and what not CNE is that surprisingly barely half of the people cited to preside the electoral tables have shown up. In Venezuelan law, there is a mandatory public service as citizen voters are randomly selected to get trained the week before election to serve as managers and monitors of the electoral tables. A jury duty of sorts. They do get paid for their troubles and employers must grant permission. Still, today the CNE admitted that about half had not shown up, and was even pushed to threaten the no-shows with severe fines.

Of course, nowhere did we see any soul-searching at the CNE as to why people just do not care about the elections.

The arrogance and growing isolation of the CNE is quite a fascinating spectacle to observe as Jorge Rodriguez seems more worried these days at cultivating the memory of his assassinated father, a leftist politician, than trying to give some credibility to the CNE. Nowhere does it seem to cross his mind, in this gigantic ego trip that his psychiatric career should have prepared him to resist, that he is the person that single handedly contributed the most to the image degradation and the disrespect that people have for the CNE. Rodriguez projects such a idea of arranged results that one wonders how come they still leave him presiding that rats nest...

My modest predictions, finally

After having tried to dodge the issue for an already long post, time has come to fess up. Let me remind first that polls do give a favorable image of Chavez of anywhere between 60 and 80 % though the voting intention seems to drop as low as 45% in a recent Keller survey. But let's assume that the Datanalisis results of 60-70 % that so please chavismo these days are a true reflection of the country's mood (Ah! Long gone the days when Datanalisis was not an acceptable pollster for chavismo!)

Thus, if Chavez has indeed up to 70% of favorable ratings and the opposition is deeply divided between voters and abstentions, ANY RESULT where chavismo does not get at least 80% of the municipal seats must be considered as a defeat for chavismo, in particular if abstention reaches the 50% mark, a more than likely possibility.

So, this is what it all comes to, chavismo must win 80% of the seats (I am not talking of votes as it is very difficult to really measure that with the multiplicity of parties and alliances running). If it does not win 80% it will not be an outright victory, and if it drops below 70% we could even talk of defeat! Ah! The paradox!!!! But when you stack the system to your advantage, you are expected to win big, isn't it so?

Will Chavez get more than 70% of seats? Likely unless a sudden change of mood in the opposition happens in the next two days. Will Chavez get 80%? Less likely. After all in Zulia, and many province states, abstention is not likely to be as high as in Caracas where it promises to be staggering in the two districts in the hands of Chavez. That is why the CNE is extending the campaign for an extra day, why it has started a big, if silly and probably counterproductive campaign to stem abstention at least among chavismo. The beauty of all these tricks is that now a 65% seats with 45% abstention would be a much better result for chavismo than a 80% with 60% abstention! I am going to have fun reading the papers Sunday morning, because of course for once I will not even bother watching "election night" on Sunday. What for? However I will drive around using my cell phone to take pictures of voting centers... We will have at least the abstention truth in San Felipe.

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