Deciding upon a unique presidential candidate
Once the common program for a transition period is established it should be easier to proceed to select a viable presidential candidate. Considering that the opposition would be united for a three year program, many of the more ambitious, and usually younger ones, that are in for the full term might decide to step aside and wait, letting someone with more experience and willingness go to sacrifice for the common good. Before discussing the potential candidates let’s first discuss how this one would be elected.
Election of a candidate
Considering that there might be CNE dead lines to meet, anyone that wishes to run for president should just register with the CNE. It does not matter when the final choice of the opposition is done as long as it is done three full months before the election day. After all, one of the decisions that might have to be taken would be to withdraw from the race if the CNE does not offer acceptable conditions for a reasonably fair elections. Again, the Venezuelan people are now quite aware of what is going on and 2/3 at least of the electorate will vote either for Chavez or against it no matter what the opposition candidate. The Venezuelan democratic system in a way has regressed to the Yellow Dog system.
Which would be the conditions to run in the primary election? Very simple, at least 4 people out of the 25 from the commission that designed the program should publicly support the pre-candidate (or some similar requirement). This will have the advantage of limiting distracting runs either by cryptic chavistas or plain weirdoes since at most 8 people could run.
To simplify the process and try to avoid a time consuming second run, the winner would be required to have at least 40% of the votes and more than 5% advance on the next in the run if s/he does not reach the 50% on the first round. If not, well, too bad, we will need a second round between the two top candidates.
All of this can be completed by early August at the latest. And then for the three months campaign of September through November, the opposition will have a clear program and a unique candidate.
The final candidate should be the one running the campaign. No more Coordinadora Democratica, no more supra structure: all must rally behind a single candidate and support him or her heartily. After all, that person if Chavez is defeated, will stay in office for no more than 3 years, 4 at most if the constitution is changed to limit presidential terms. Besides, one judges a candidate as to how well a campaign is run. If you doubt it, you may watch "The West Wing".
This part is a little off topic, but I decided to include it anyway as the personality of the candidates with a real shot influenced this proposal redaction. The first thing for the reader that is still here is to forget the polls. Since no one is really running openly yet, these polls are meaningless. When you see that in a certain poll Salas Romer still has higher numbers than Teodoro Petkoff you know that something is wrong with the methodology. Not that Salas is a bad candidate (this blogger voted for him in 1998) but times have changed and this poll reflect more the passivity of the electorate and the subsequent sole importance of name recognition than any real political tendency expressed.
In the opinion of this blogger there are only three candidates worth considering, barred some miracle when the program commission is elected (indeed, that is an advantage of electing such a committee, to promote a possible new candidate from the civilian sector). These three candidates are Julio Borges, Teodoro Petkoff and Manuel Rosales.
Julio Borges of Primero Justicia
Advantages. He is not bound to the past. He projects a certain image of efficiency (after all, PJ rules the three areas which are the best administered in the country, Chacao, Baruta and Los Salias, where all chavista officials try to move in). PJ could be a winner in the election of the program committee, thus ensuring that Borges and that committee work well together. It is too late for PJ to change him. PJ has now a significant electoral machinery in the main states.
Weakness. Even as considerable efforts have made to reach the masses, with some success actually, PJ is still too linked to the middle class. And Borges by himself is a good candidate but lacks charisma. It might be a good contrast to over excited Chavez in a country that might start to seek some rest, but it could also backfire. In small states he will have problems to be accepted, and will rely on AD leftover machinery which will grudgingly work for him.
Manuel Rosales, Zulia governor
Advantages. He will carry, largely, Zulia state. In fact, he might even carry the neighboring states that are prey to lousy governors reelected strictly on Chavez referendum coattails and because of the failure of the opposition to make a real challenge in 2004. Of all candidates he is the most protected from electoral fraud, at least in Zulia where nobody would believe that he would not get at least 50%. He is not from the Caracas establishment, to which now chavistas are considered to belong (even if as a parallel establishment to the old one). Proven administrative experience. Would get at least 25% in a primary thus starting strongly any bid and getting some “unifying” power. Would probably be second only to PJ in the seat distribution of the program committee.
Weakness. He is an ex AD, but that might be OK today. He signed on April 12 2002, but if Chavez has not jailed them yet he might not dare to do it anymore. After all he was brilliantly reelected in 2004 in site of all sorts of accusations and that “cleansed” him from that April mistake, just as 1998 “cleansed” Chavez of 1992. He might be too provincial for some tastes. He has electoral machinery only in Zulia and would rely too much on AD outside. Outside of Zulia and Caracas he is still not well known, in particular in the Eastern part of the country. He is also the most hated by Chavez as his inability to carry Zulia is a personal affront and also the only thing that could justify his PDVSA take over for his own personal objectives since lacking the Zulia oil state popular approval is a constant reminder of the arbitrary actions of Chavez then.
Advantages. Name recognition? The only one that Chavez fears. As an ex guerilla he cannot be labeled as a right winger, anti people. The only one that can go one on one with Chavez, even getting into the gutter to wrestle Chavez without dirtying himself (Chavez loves to get dirty in the gutter and that can backfire on him). Proven administrative experience as the minister who straightened up the Caldera administration mess. Through his paper Tal Cual has demonstrated to have clear ideas as to where the country should go. Certainly the darling of the “independent” and "intellectual" minded set. He can benefit from the remains of the MAS electoral machinery and has already run elections. He is old enough that all would believe that he is in only for 3-4 years maximum.
Weakness. As an ex guerilla too many people are not willing to forgive him. Thus his problem in the primary is to reach a second round ballot which would be easier for him to win than reaching that second round! He might be a little too “white” for some folks that are too young to remember the guerilla days, and Chavez might be tempted to use that racial card. Could backfire but that strategy might work for Chavez. He also would be very reluctant to back the winner of the opposition primary if this one is too far from his ideas (think Alvarez Paz or Roberto Smith if they were able to win, which I doubt). He might have little influence in the program committe.
This blogger thinks that Teodoro is the man. He is Liberal (US sense), a Social Democrat (EU sense), someone that after the guerilla years has realized and understood the values of pragmatism and the progressive approach, some one that understands that real jobs are the best social program that exists, the only social program that can bring Venezuela out of a near 4th world mentality. He is someone that would be able to befriend fast all the South American left leaders, better than Chavez does based only on his wallet: Teodoro can do it on his words alone.
This being said, if Borges or Rosales win, I would have no problem fully backing them either. I identify very well with the efficiency aspirations of PJ, or the decentralization objectives of Rosales. Both are democrats (even if Rosales might be a little bit too old school, Tamany Hall kind of boss). But anyone of them is infinitely better than Chavez.
In fact I am delighted that the opposition has at least these three options whereas in contrast chavismo has only Chavez as the rest are mediocre flatterers unable to create their own leadership, even if Chavez were to allow it.