Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Venezuelan electoral problem

[UPDATED AND EXPANDED]

A couple of weeks ago I started a series of articles aimed at explaining the problems inherent to the Venezuelan electoral system, chiefly linked to the lack of trust in the Venezuelan electoral board, CNE, and the overwhelming and unfair advantage of Chavez using the government treasury as his electoral war chest. Not to mention the legal control of system that allows chavismo to browbeat any open supporter of an opposition candidate as it might wish. I am here reposting the introduction post with all the previous links. At the end I am adding new a general conclusion and an appendix of some important links.
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Introduction

There is indeed a Venezuelan electoral problem that is not going away. Thus it is necessary to revisit it regularly, to underline once again the basic points. Unfortunately now we must add the abstention movement as yet another, and perhaps very deleterious, problem. But first things first. In a series of posts I will describe the real hurdles that make it very difficult for any one to mount a real electoral challenge to Chavez, NO MATTER what political platform one might be able to set up. I will also discuss some not so real problems, but problems that do strike the imaginary and distract the attention from the real problems. These ones unfortunately lead to the latest problem to jeopardize our democratic future, the abstention movement. If this one is not handled well, it will ensure Chavez to stay in office until kingdom comes or until some disaster removes this disaster maker.

The problems in the Venezuelan electoral system

The Real Problems

The governmental advantage (posted here)
  • The state as the financier of the Chavez campaign
  • The control of the media
  • Conclusion 1
The Tascon list and its effect on running a campaign (posted here)
  • The Tascon list now Maisanta list
  • Blocking citizen participationBlocking financing of the opposition parties
  • Conclusion 2
The not so real problem (posted here)
  • The CNE question
  • Legalities are just a political problem
  • How to deal with the CNE
  • Conclusion 3
The abstention problem (posted here)
  • The nature of the “abstentionist” in mid 2006
  • How does “abstention” affect particularly the Venezuelan elections
  • How to deal with the abstention group within the opposition
  • Conclusion 4
Conclusion

Running a fair election today in Venezuela is nearly impossible. The overwhelming reason is that Chavez and his followers have secured the apparatus of the state to favor as much as possible any candidate that chavismo might run. That does not mean that the opposition can win, and it does on occasion, but it means clearly that major elections are an uphill battle for any opposition candidate.

These blockages start from the absolute control of the state that chavismo has obtained. The implication is that there is no control, and thus chavismo can use public funds to finance its campaign without any type of accounting whereas the opposing candidates must seek a meager financing that will never be a match against what the government can do, from plastering public offices with pro Chavez propaganda to create any ad hoc social program that might be nothing more than a vote buying scheme.

This situation creates two perverse effects. First, the absence of reliable controls, the permanent unpunished abuses perpetrated by chavista officials and Chavez himself, promotes even more abuses, if not outright cheating. The refusal of the government to clean its act as to electoral verifications and investigating founded charges of electoral cheating is damming. For example, it can start simply with the claims from losing opposition candidates which are processed late, if processed, whereas that claims against winning opposition candidates are processed faster. And it can end with the more serious fraud allegations that can only be cleared away when the government decides to support counting of ballots instead of relying only on electronic voting (a practice more and more questioned around the world).

In front of such unchecked abuses, a secondary but equally perverse effect is that people begin to refuse to vote in such conditions. If this affects mainly opposition voters it is also affecting pro Chavez voters and eventually, as abstention rates climb to 80% of the electoral roll, could affect the legitimacy of Venezuelan government with the incalculable consequences that this might bring. When the mood is for a militant abstention, it is difficult to run an electoral campaign to decide the future of the country.

The problem is really a political problem, not a merely technical one. It is up to Chavez, who controls everything in Venezuela, to decide to demonstrate that he indeed holds the will of the people, instead of obtaining part of his support from governmental handouts or outright obscene blackmail through instruments such as the Tascon/Maisanta list. Nobody questions the Chavez victories of 1998, 99 and 2000. Ever since no “victory” has been unchallenged. Nobody should be more interested in fair and free elections than Chavez. But we are not seeing that, in fact we are seeing a further tightening of the rope around the opposition neck, in a now rather desperate attempt at getting “10 million” votes.

Still, when all is said and done, even if the final decision for the opposition is to abstain next December, this one must run a campaign and must fight as hard as possible to obtain what is the legitimate right of the Venezuelan people: a real debate and a real electoral system. Serious opposition candidates cannot allow to be blackmailed by either the abstention supporters or by the governmental abuses and vulgarity. There is a time to fight and a time to withdraw. It is by handling this adequately that the opposition candidate will acquire its own legitimacy and show to the world what is really going on in Venezuela. Otherwise it will look as an excuse, a case of sore loser.

Appendix

Four articles showing new light on the possible fraud mechanism of the Recall Election, written by Miguel here, here, here and here (plus a few he wrote in the last year). It is important to keep this in mind as the presidential election is a simple election to run, like the recall election was, and thus easier to tamper with than a complex local elections with scores of candidates. It is important to observe that what is dicussed is the promise (threat?) of chavismo to get 10 million votes for the beloved leader. A campaign based on that slogan would taste like a defeat if Chavez wins with, say, less than 8 million votes. In other words, silly electoral themes could force the governmet in a cheating overdirve of which the mechanisms shown in this collection of posts and papers are only one weapon in obtaining the wished for goal.

There is also the question of the voting machines, now questionned in the US. Alek Boyd is the one interested in this topic. Vcrisis also includes a summary article from Gustavo Coronel worth reading.

And there is of course a wealth of non blogging material from which all of our posts are based, be them researtch articles on Smartmatic in the US to the election observers reports from the Euroepan Union or the OAS, duly linked here through these articles. One does not need to be a wizz detective to figure out that there is a problem in Venezuela and that fair elections are not possibel in the current situation.

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