What could the opposition do considering the present circumstances? The good news is that there are options. The bad news is that political will and steady pulse are required.
One must be aware at all times that Chavez disposes of the colossal financial, legal and illegal support of the state for all of his misdeeds, electoral or not. It will be a rough campaign. However I do believe that the Venezuelan people have largely made up their mind, in particular the opposition: there is little that Chavez can do at this point to dent the 40% that has always been voting against him until August 2004. That capital is there and haunts Chavez at night. It haunts him even more since people have learned very well not express their real thoughts and hopes to pollsters, thus confusing all. The only consistency detectable in polls is a tendency for Chavez numbers to drop, without even having a clear discourse facing him. It must certainly be enervating.
I do believe that the opposition can mount a reasonable challenge with only a fraction of the money that Chavez will spend and still achieve a significant gain. Even a result of 4 million for Chavez to 3 million for the opposition would be a great success. And even if the opposition decides at the last minute not to run again, anything below 5 million votes for Chavez will be a disaster as Chavez inconceivably keeps invoking the 10 million mark!
I also think that if the opposition gets its act together by August 1, it can actually beat Chavez in December. How?
There are two issues that have been dodging the opposition and making Chavez task easier at berating the opposition: the lack of a program and the lack of a candidate. There is a way to deal with that. And a way that actually would weaken any partisan CNE that chavismo might throw in the ring to thwart opposition chances.
Creating a program of government
Criticizing the opposition for its lack of program is unfair. However it is fair to say that whatever program or message the opposition has had, this one was drowned in the background noise of multiple promises to please all and enthusiasm none. The first goal is thus to settle for a simple common opposition program that can be understood by all, with clear and limited objectives: namely the restoration of institutionalism and investor confidence to generate job and personal security as jobs take away the idle from the streets. It might not even hurt to be simplistic instead of the complex book offered a bare few weeks before the Recall Election.
Offering a transition government program
This election is different. The institutions of the country have been destroyed by the personal hunger for power of Chavez. When you see the Supreme Court judges chanting pro Chavez slogans you do realize that conciliation and promises of better roads pavement are not going to carry the day. What Venezuela needs is to rebuild institutions first before a real electoral campaign on matters of social and economical projects can be undertaken. After the collapse of the La Güaira bridge and 6 years of Vargas neglect people might start understanding that their job and hunger problems are not going to get solved by Chavez hot air. Some serious administrative job must be undertaken. Globovision is getting tiresome in showing chavistas complaining against chavista incompetent “public” servants. That is enough evidernce.
I think that it would be good to offer the country a three year plan, a transition period where the only promise is to make the state institutions work again as independent entities devoted only to the locals. A program where the new president will engage in divesting his power and returning it to the people and people only. After three years, new elections will be held to vote in a new more complete project.
This does carry some additional advantages:
- It allows forcing that the common presidential candidate to be there only for a three year period. When the main measures will have been taken, he or she will step down and allow for the election of a new president with a real long term program.
- A transition president, that promises not to run for reelection, might actually give that person the energy to tackle some necessary measures that a long term president with eyes on poll might not want to touch with 10 feet pole. This would be the secret of a transition government.
- It will allow for a reassuring of the chavistas that genuinely believe in Chavez that they will not be “eradicated” and that in three years they will be already able to come back, albeit with someone else than Chavez. With such a transition program only so much witch hunting can be done in three years.
- In brief, it could allow for the postponement of a major confrontation until people cool off their temper. Three years might be enough to bring back enough civility to run a real campaign.
In no particular order:
1) Rebuilding the institutions of the country. This will probably require a constitution modification. This should be significant but limited. It should include a reduction of the presidential and legislative terms to 5 or 4 years (I’ll go for 4); putting back the army under civilian control; it should eliminate reelection no matter what; it should render justice independent once and for all; it should strengthen decentralization. Half a dozen amendments voted in a referendum would be enough. And certainly cheaper and faster than a constitutional assembly. Besides Chavez has been violating so many of the constitutional articles that the only ones that matter are those mentioned. The new government can keep violating the other constitutional articles as Chavez has been doing. Civic education is a long process and it must start by the core principles.
2) It should have the courage to say that some Misiones are good and list the ones that are bad and why. It should promise to deliver control of the good Misiones to the local governments, to place them under control of the consumer. That is one way to demonstrate that power will go to the people: states are perfectly able to run Barrio Adentro which is just a reprise of old primary schemes practiced in the 60ies. Mercal could be announced as designed only to help the poor, the real poor so as to benefit them even more by extending subsidies. There are antecedents for Mercal, from PROAL to the “bolsas de comida”. Mision Sucre should be crossed out as a waste but Rivas should be maintained and coupled with a technical program for people to get a real, if short, education for the only real jobs available out there: technical and maintenance jobs. We have enough university degrees holding "buhonero" stands. People know and can understand that. REAL JOBS, with complete social benefits, should be the core offering.
3) It should proclaim a “Venezuela first” policy, renouncing FTAA and Mercosur as well. Venezuela does not need either one for the time being. If we stop giving money away we might just have enough for us. And of course a clear pledge to not only stop giving money away but to try to get back as much as what was given away. Using international tribunals if necessary. It would not hurt to pledge that any recovered money will be distributed directly to the states. That way we could easily counter any nationalistic card that Chavez might want to play, constantly reminding folks on how he uses “their” money as if it were “his” money.
4) It should bluntly plead for a removal of the members of the “Poder Moral” accusing them of the biggest enablers of corruption. The institution should be preserved but it should call for a referendum on their tenure if they refuse to step down. Placing people of integrity there is the only way to start controlling the sick corruption that is destroying our society. In other words, Isaias, Clodosvaldo and German should be made electoral issues. They would be a great target to make sure that the election is not against Chavez only but against a perverse system that is there only to favor Chavez and his minions. Besides, the three of them are so politically engaged that nobody would be shocked by such an action.
5) PDVSA should be professionalized again. There should be a pledge of evaluation by an independent committee of the people who replaced the strikers: the ones who performed their job well should remain. Not all the ones that were fired should get a free return. It is unfortunately the price to pay for national reconciliation by demonstrating that there will be no witch hunting. And it is the only way to try to take PDVSA out of politics again. Perhaps the coexistence of the two camps within PDVSA might be better for the country on the long run. Besides many of the experimented ex PDVSA employees have already found jobs or could be hired by the private sector as Venezuela production should be raised by an extra million barrels a day, something that the present PDVSA seems unable to do, stuck below the pre 2002 level.
That would be enough and can be achieved in three years with a few more sweeteners for the bitter pill that awaits all of us Venezuelans after the mess of these last 7 years. Real efforts to achieve such goals would be enough to bring back investors confidence. With the oil money that will keep coming no matter what, Venezuela economy will experience a real productive growth instead of a distributive scheme of growth that is doomed even if oil prices were to remain high in a foreseeable future.
How to generate such a program?
There is nothing really original in the program offered above. It is just what a logical mind would think to return the country from the nincompoop socialism of the XXI century into a workable Social Democracy. The originality would be in how this program will be agreed upon. There should be an election of a commission that would decide the details of the program. A little bit like the now infamous Coordinadora Democratica, but with a real representation. That commission will be elected through the services of SUMATE and would welcome only groups that accept to abide by the final outcome of the commission no matter what that result is. Since the aim would be for a transition period government, that might not be too difficult to achieve.
An electoral system for the opposition
It would be important to elect an opposition commission that is not too large for several reasons:
- To make sure that it cannot act as a parallel parliament and thus pass in the eye of public opinion as a willful disturbance factor. Half of the country at least agrees that the monochromatic parliament we have now is useless, a rubber stamp body with Mickey Mouse ears. But half of the country is not willing to go into an extra parliamentary adventure.
- There should be good and pragmatic minds elected to it. The less of them the easier to reach an agreement and a short program of government.
- Political parties might be less tempted to send in their prima donne and instead opt for their real technicians to take seats.
- It would allow for any presidential candidate to get to know every one of the commissioners, making sure that no platform plank would bar outright a candidate to run in the primaries
In addition I would propose that only the ones who signed against Chavez for the Recall election vote. Or open the vote to all but announce that the secrecy of the names of those who vote cannot be guaranteed. That would scare away any hard core chavista sabotage by infiltrating perturbing factors. The so called “chavismo light” or the mythical Ni-Ni could thus be brought in to influence in a positive way and help restart a real dialogue in society. After all, only groups that pledge respect for the outcome of the commission and that have had a long tradition of opposing Chavez could run, protecting us from too much chavismo infiltration. Even if chavismo were to put an all out effort by openly supporting a given option it could still not get more than 1/3 of the seats. But I think that chavismo will not go and vote in an intra opposition election. In fact they will try to minimize the vote count as much as possible. Open voting is thus a risk probably worth taking.
Finally to make the system more responsible I would vote for open lists. That is, if you chose to vote for, say, the MAS list, you put a cross in front of the name in the list you like the most. That way the people can have an influence on who will be the leaders of the future, without imposition from party machinery. We could start getting rid of political dead wood and promote the rejuvenation of political parties even if they refuse to get internal elections. It would also help the civil society to go along as they could create unified lists to improve their chances to get certain names in.
Another implicit advantage would be the humiliation of the CNE demonstrating that a representative assembly can be elected fast, with pen and paper, without a complex and fraudulent apparatus.
Election could be held as early as mid March. Debate and final vote could be done as early as mid May. Then we could worry about the opposition presidential candidate.