Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Venezuelan election of 2006: the new Venezuelan opposition

The Venezuelan opposition might have almost the same percentile vote as in 2004 or 2000, but is it the same quality? The answer is rather complex. Effectively it is rather likely that those who voted last Sunday against Chavez did it so also the previous elections, but the motivations have changed, some, the electors have changed some but more importantly the political party preference have changed a lot.

The new electoral map for the opposition

The most striking result for the opposition is that contrary to preceding electoral results we have now only two political groups worth any consideration. In the generalized debacle of the old parties, AD, the party who controlled Venezuelan politics from 1945 to 1998 is gone. Not only it did not support Rosales and thus it did not appear on the ballot, but part of its militants decided to balk the party line and, to add insult to injury, the abstention rate was too low for AD to claim any credit to it. The question for AD is to figure out if it is still relevant to Venezuelan politics, and where could it go to fish back its voters.

But AD is not the only party that went out. Other traditional forces like the MAS have not resisted their split. Part of it went to PODEMOS which tries very hard not be swallowed whole by Chavez’s MVR, but the remaining MAS did not even manage to get 1% of the vote. So, which is the new opposition composition?

Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time)

This is the vehicle of Rosales, created in Zulia when he abandoned AD in 2000 and did not want to be tagged with the past. Rosales made all his career as an AD, and his campaign against Chavez was a classic AD campaign in many aspects. Its challenge in last sudnay election was to convince as many people as possible to vote for Rosales using the UNT label instead of any of the other myriad of labels supporting him. On a first look it seems that UNT has succeeded and that it has left the Zulia confines to start building a national audience. Will it last?

The first weakness of UNT is that many AD did vote for it. Many AD can see some of their beliefs or language reflected in Rosales proposals and thus, disgruntled with the AD leadership they decided to cast their fate with UNT. Will this last? How many AD did vote for UNT? How many decided not to vote as the AD leadership called for? It is very hard to measure this and we will need to wait.

And what is UNT? Right now it is perceived as the Rosales vehicle, a Maracucho party. It is an AD who would had finally gone through some modernization, a more pragmatic approach, recuperating some of the social conscience of the past. If Rosales manages not to appear as a Chavez within his followers and works hard at creating a groups of emerging local leadership, UNT can have some future. Otherwise it will die with Rosales fortunes.

Primero Justicia

But is UNT really the main political party of Venezuela? If we look at the CNE numbers (still incomplete as of today, as almost 5% of the vote is still not accounted for, a vote that includes the heavy anti Chavez vote of the oversea Venezuelans) we realize that in fact the political movement more important in Venezuela after Chavez MVR is Primero Justicia.

The National result show that in political party order we have 1) MVR with 41.69% 2) UNT with 13.36%and 3) PJ with 11.16%. We can start to observe that UNT + PJ are MORE than half of the MVR vote. Chavez gets his large margin of victory from his allies that fared better than the other Rosales allies, illustrating even more the decrepitude of the old political parties that supported Rosales.

However, let’s remove from UNT and PJ the votes they got in Zulia, the richest voter state. Nation wise we have UNT with 1.522.279 votes and PJ with 1.271.017 votes. In Zulia the numbers are respectively 413.997 and 101.011. When we remove these numbers from the national total we get for the rest of Venezuela PJ ahead with 1.170.006 votes and UNT second with 1.108.282. Even if the geographical repartition still shows PJ more concentrated than UNT, it has presence in most of Venezuelan state. Primero Justicia is not anymore a Caracas area only political party, and it could become next election the main opposition party. PJ now is the main political opposition in 7 states, improbably including Bolivar, and could easily pick up a couple more (Tachira for example).

Unfortunately PJ is divided inside between the Borges tendency and the Lopez one. There is an inner tension as PJ refuses to accept that it should become the expression of a modern center right organization. Everyone in Venezuela has always pretended to be left of center even if often they ruled on the populist right. PJ needs to sharpen its "ideological" offering" before the other guys start prying on it.

Possibly realizing that they did better than expected, PJ might find a way to patch differences through internal elections. Or they can split and then who knows what will happen. One thing is certain, both Lopez and Borges worked hard for Rosales campaign and both know that a division can only hurt them. In this issue Borges is the one who holds the key: either he will accept to share decision making within PJ or he will risk to see half of it move out.

El Chiripero

There is a new “chiripero” in Venezuela. This expression that refers to small roaches getting together to support a major candidate can apply better to the opposition other political forces (though chavismo does have its own chiripero). Of all the opposition forces, only one manages to get above 1 %, old Copei with 2.23%. To the dustbin of history go all the other one, even the strange revival of URD, a 1950ies party which unaccountably got 0,73% of the votes and made it to second for the opposition in Monagas! Pundits say that it is the local AD there that voted for URD rather than UNT, to try to keep AD options for the future.

Can anything be salvaged from that “chiripero”? If we tie together all the traditional social democrat left, such as the MAS and other, we could reach a not easily dismissible 2.7% for almost a dozen of small groups. Puny perhaps, but at least something to start with. However we can better count on some of these failing to renew their mandated re-inscription to the CNE for having failed the minimum score.

The rest? Maybe brand new VdP of Smith with 0.74% might grow some. Maybe Copei might rejuvenate and grow again. Maybe. I think that as Chavez pushes for more polarization with his single party objective, these small parties will just finish to disappear from the scenery. All together they brought Rosales 11.98% of the total vote but they are divided in 41 groups!

UNT and PJ must reach an agreement

Thus it is quite clear, more than 2/3 of the opposition vote belongs to UNT and PJ. They must find a way to deal with each other, to maintain an electoral alliance, perhaps a political alliance; and they also must find a way to smooth the integration of the smaller players, which if small still represent almost a 12% that cannot just be ignored.

Copei and Convergencia could find their way into PJ (something that this blogger preached long ago by the way). That would already give that new PJ a 13,89% and make it the first opposition party of Venezuela.

And UNT could reply by absorbing URD and a few other minor ones to reach a 15%.

With a 3-5% for a small social democrat group represented by Petkoff, we see the “triple alliance” that started this campaign, Rosales, Borges and Petkoff.

That would be the logical and wise thing to do. Will they be able to manage it?

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