Friday, May 26, 2006

Primaries anyone?

The latest surprise development in the complicated path towards some form of meaningful election in December is the fast sinking project to hold an opposition primary. This even though the most prestigious opposition organization, Sumate, is sponsoring the whole scheme.

What when wrong?

For the impatient reader, I will give the result first and the explanation next: The Tascon political apartheid list.

Before I try, or rather, venture in giving an explanation, let’s recap quickly what would be the advantages and inconvenient of an opposition primary. I will put that as a table, trying when possible to balance advantages and disadvantages.

Disadvantages

Advantages

There is a risk of cannibalization between the different candidates. This could hurt the already rather weak chances of an eventual winner.Allows for a variety of programs to be offered, a real discussion. If the winner wins big (more than 40%) he could easily rally the rest around its banner.
There is also all sorts of possible interferences such as chavismo sending its crowds to the candidate less likely to beat Chavez (the inconvenient of any open primary election).If a lot more of people show up for the primaries than for the December 2005 election this could be quite a problem for chavismo, thus making it unlikely that he will send his cohorts. Not to mention the opportunity for the opposition and Sumate to show how to run elections.
The criticism leveled between each candidate can be used by Chavez against the eventual winner.There will be a demonstration of democracy compared to chavismo where only what Chavez says matters. The people will really be able to understand what the unipersonal will of Chavez means, what are the consequences of the internal "debate" of chavismo where the only debate is how to share the spoils.
If the abstention party refuses to participate it might not yield the best candidate to lead the whole opposition, including the abstention group. That is, the winner need to be representative of as much as possible from the opposition to be able to coalesce the dubious around his flag.
It could encourage the people planning to abstain to at least go out and vote for the primary, promoting a more participatory mood.
Expensive and time consuming. the opposition has meager resources compared to chavismo.
Perhaps motivating.
It is a mechanism best suited for intra party discussion, not really for an opposition as varied and divided as the current one. If not well managed it could aggravate the inner tensions of the opposition.It might help the opposition from the left to the extreme right to settle some basic issues aside and focus on a short program to rebuild the country institutions.
Little time or funds for a second round, which could have two side effects: no winner with a “mandate”, possible “dissidence”Forces candidates to have a sharper message and win on the first round.
It is messy.It is democratic.


Now, this was all fine, predictable and could be worked around. Unfortunately it seems that the people of Sumate did not preview the psychological factor of the Tascon list, now become the more complete and sophisticated Maisanta program where the government knows with high accuracy the likelihood that someone would vote against Chavez. In practical terms this means that if the roll call of people voting in the opposition primaries were to fall in the hands ofChavez's party, the MVR, that data would be quickly added to the Maisanta database. Anyone cashing on the government, be it a business contractor or a humble Mision recipient would risk to lose its benefit. Let’s remind the reader that what we are discussing here is STATE/NATION income that belongs to ALL VENEZUELANS, and not to those voting for Chavez. Apparently in the world there are some that think it alright to discriminate on the basis of political ideas. That might be right for some contracts and some government positions but whenever we discuss social benefits the state ought to be blind, just like justice. Since Chavez came to power this has stopped in Venezuela as the Misiones social programs require allegiance to the revolution and Lady Justice herself seems to have gone through Mision Milagro.

It is thus quite understandable that Teodoro Petkoff has raised the issue of the primaries as to whether it is the best way to select the opposition candidate since out of hand we can predict that no public servant nor military personnel will dare to go and vote in such primaries. That would void the “open primary” idea. And this blogger would add that we might as well allow to vote only those who signed for the Recall Election since we are already all in the Maisanta segregation plan. Roberto Smith, to his great credit, and this blogger is certainly not a supporter, has stated that what we should vote for is a government program. Which is exactly what this blogger supported in February, to vote first on a group of people to design a transition program. But who listens to bloggers… At any rate, now in June, it might be too late for a "program" campaign as it is almost to late for even a candidate campaign.

I must confess that I have not made my mind on that topic. The democrat in me really wants to go and vote at anything put in front of him. I had to wait for December 2005 to abstain in an election for the FIRST time in my life, with great sorrow. Now, I am asked to consider the possibility that a primary might paradoxically not be the best or more democratic system to select a candidate against Chavez.

In other words, the evil, because there is no other way to qualify it, that chavismo is with such foul instruments as the Tascon list is succeeding in killing democracy in more levels than just the formal act of voting. This is something for which I will never forgive Chavez and acolytes like Tascon who should rot in jail for the rest of their lives once this all comes to pass.

But I digress. Right now for all its best intentions Sumate has misjudged the situation. I mean, I understand them. They are brave souls who like me are not afraid to stand up and call Chavez the wanna be tyrant he wants to become. But it is difficult to ask the majority, now legitimately afraid of chavismo bias and power, to stand up and be willing to risk it all. They wil, someday, ultimately, as they realize that their other option is a walk across the Colombian jungle to escape. But meanwhile Teodoro and his colleagues must seat with Sumate and be creative.

To be continued.

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