Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The 2007 result: these local variations that undid Chavez

One thing that is interesting to observe from the 2007 result is the surprising role that local politics played in what should have been a strictly national contest. After all we were voting for a new constitution, not the mayor of Tucusiapon. But local political situations did play a role, sometimes even a major role such as in Lara state where the tug of war within chavismo for the succession of governor Reyes Reyes probably gave the most surprising NO victory in the whole country.

The other crucial observation, in particular for the long term prospects of chavismo is that the 2006 pattern is preserved: the poorer, more dependent a region from state subsidies or hand outs the more likely it is to vote for Chavez. That is, in more developed urban areas with a significant portion of its population employed in private sector or the public sector not subjugated to the whims of chavismo (universities for example) the NO usually won. There, the socialism content of the reform proposal was read for what it was: NOT a European social democracy but more of a Cuban style state control on everything.

That Urban phenomenon

Let’s start already with this observation which I had already covered in my general survey of the 2006 election results. I had noticed that in spite of the overwhelming victory of Chavez at the national level in December 2006, some urban areas such as even San Felipe resisted the tide. Rosales did carry most of these areas, a mix of downtown business, middle class neighborhoods, universities, etc… As I wrote then
“The opposition voter is a driven self reliant voter. It is also an above average educated voter. It is now more than ever the very largest bulk of the Venezuelan middle class, from the office clerk, the qualified worker to the business magnate”.
On December 2 this year, this trend was not only confirmed but even showed signs of strengthening. Obviously this must raise issues for Chavez as you cannot build a country if most of the skilled work force is against you.

The loss of Caracas

The most dramatic example this time is the searing defeat of Chavez/chavismo in the Caracas metropolitan area. Readers must remember that in 2004 already Caracas voted to revoke Chavez. This time not only Chavez lost strongly within Caracas but he even lost in the main distant suburban areas. The main implication is that for the regional elections of 2008 the opposition has its two surest bets in the country: to unseat Diosdado Cabello and Juan Barreto who have been very deficient bad mouthed administrators.

The graph below shows in red numbers the districts carried by Chavez in 2006. And in blue how most of them shifted to the NO. Note, in the greater Caracas districts I do not include the entire districts, for example in Guaicaipuro I picked out only the Los Teques area.

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Some of these results that should be of great worry for chavismo. The first one is for Libertador, the Caracas downtown area, where Bernal the mayor, now one year away from losing his job due to term limits has basically stopped administering the city. The verdict is stinging there. Not only the NO gains almost 50 000 votes from Rosales in 2006 but Chavez loses 260 000 votes. That is, we see in Libertador not only a huge abstention against Chavez but a large cross over of people tired of seeing downtown Caracas turned into a dump, a lot of people that knew perfectly well that the solution to their problems is not through Chavez being able to change the name of Caracas while appointing the major himself. No, the solution comes from kicking the bums out, which is now almost certain to happen next October. Can you imagine Chavez with a Libertador mayor opposed to his policies? (note: we also see this magnitude of electoral shift in Guarenas where chavismo used to go when it needed photo ops of adoring crowds).

The second interesting result is that while the NO advanced over Chavez 2006 result everywhere, in the opposition bastions of Baruta, Chacao and El Hatillo we observe slightly less votes for the NO than for Rosales. This indicates the existence of an opposition abstention as we discussed in last week post.

All in all the result for Caracas is quite staggeringly negative for chavismo. From 2006 chavismo lost 478.000 votes while the opposition in spite of its abstention picked up enough chavista votes to gain 60.000 votes. Another year of bad management, of empty shelves and even Guarenas could be picked up by some opposition moderate left candidate….

The loss of San Felipe and Valencia

Although not as dramatic as Caracas, the phenomenon of chavismo retreat in urban centers can be picked up even in the only real urban area of Yaracuy: San Felipe. This “metro” area includes the districts of San Felipe, Cocorote and La Independencia. This time around chavismo lost even its old bastion of La Independencia!

The combined rounded vote of 2006 was 35.000 for Chavez but this time around the SI got only 21.000 votes. Meanwhile the opposition built on Rosales 31.000 to reach a NO vote of 34.000.

In the larger urban area of Valencia we observe the same thing when we combine Valencia, Naguanagua and San Diego. In 2006 Chavez got for the three of them 246.000 but the SI got 156.000. Rosales voters amounted to 220.000 but now the NO voters reached 245.000.

Chavista bastions with cracks in the wall

There are really no good news for chavismo. The only area where chavismo kept its strength was the Llanos area. But even there some worry signs are lighting up on chavismo electoral command central. For example Portuguesa was carried handily for the SI and by Chavez in 2006. In fact Portuguesa was one of the top three states in the Chavez percentile of 2006. But today in the town of Acarigua we are sensing the beginning of that Urban Vote thing. In 2006 for each Rosales vote of Portuguesa there was 3.4 Chavez vote! In Acarigua the ratio was 2.92. But in 2007 the ratio in favor of Chavez dropped to 1.71 while in Acarigua it dropped to 1.34. Certainly Portuguesa remains a sure bet for a chavista governor to succeed Antonia Muñoz next October. But next time legislative elections come around the opposition could now count on one or two seats instead of the 0 seats it has won since 2000.

The case of Barinas is actually even humiliating for Chavez even though the SI carried the state and its namesake capital. In 2006 Chavez won Barinas (city) by 90.000 to 41.000. This time around the SI won by a meager 52.000 to 50.000. From double to even in one year! We also observe other chavista bastions which present cracks in their pillars. However there is dubious new bastion for chavismo: Monagas. This state is the top SI vote percent wise. But this is a meager consolation. The SI got indeed a 57.9% of the Monagas vote but Chavez in 2006 had a 70.9%! There is a drop of 94.000 votes. And to add insult to injury, the capital Maturin voted NO anyway.

Local effects

Finally there are states where we can observe local political situations exacerbating the NO/SI result.

The big surprise of the election was that one of the states considered a chavista bastion, Lara, voted NO! And not even that close. A state that Chavez had carried by 250.000 votes was now lost by 16.000, the opposition/NO picking up a nifty 12.000 votes. Why such a reversal?

A close examination of the results show that the vote was decided in the metropolitan area of Lara, Barquisimeto and Cabudare. Just there the NO vote gained 51.000 over the Rosales total of 2006. While of course chavismo suffered a tremendous hemorrhage. And thus the explanation. The current governor of Lara, Reyes Reyes, a mediocre governor, a lackluster personality who had to pick up some of Chavez ticks to make up some for his lack of character, has decided that he wants his son to succeed him at the Governor‘s mansion. His son of course has no proven ability for nothing and the naked act of nepotism is even more grating to Larenses as the mayor of Barquisimeto, also subjected to the two term limit, wants to run for governor. The problem here is that Barquisimeto mayor, Henri Falcon, is probably the best chavismo has to offer as far as public administration is concerned. He is good looking, he talks the people talk, he picks up the garbage. Reyes Reyes has been doing his best during his second term to sabotage the action of Falcon, going as far as stopping the work on a modest mass transit construction to make sure it is not inaugurated by Falcon before he leaves office. Thus probably a lot of chavistas supporting Falcon have sent a message to Chavez with that NO vote: do not impose on us the son of your buddy. Because of course the problem here is that Reyes Reyes is one of the buddy-buddy of Chavez. Otherwise, the message might have been "watch us vote for Falcon anyway, or even worse! An opposition!!!

There are other examples of local politics at play. Anzoategui is a case where a sectarian, disruptive, fascist, pro Muslim governor, Tarek Saab, as gained such enmity that a 140.000 victory in 2006 for Chavez became a 40.000 defeat in 2007. Tarek reelection as of December 2 has become quite problematic for chavismo who might even be tempted to field a different candidate next October.

But there is a counter example where the maverick pro Chavez governor of Trujillo has managed to have his state buck the trend in the Andes giving a solid SI victory while Tachira and Merida gave a solid defeat for chavismo. though even in Trujillo the abstention brought down 2006 numbers.

Conclusion?

There is a simple conclusion: Chavez lost the automatic control of the electorate he enjoyed since 1999. Now elections will have to be won by more than a "those who vote NO or for so and so are traitors". The next contest is October 2008 and we will be able to watch close these regional differences gain a sudden key role and watch how well Chavez is able to overcome regional factors. Assuming of course that he does not kick the table before.

Just for the fun of it we could venture a prediction for the Regional Elections of 2008. Be aware that 10 months is a lifetime in politics before you give utter credence to my extremely preliminary predictions. This is just in fun.

The opposition should retain without much problem the only two states it holds presently: Zulia and Nueva Esparta. The only catch here is to find a successor for Rosales who is subject to the two term limits.

The opposition should gain without much trouble Tachira, Caracas, and Miranda. In each case the hurdle will be to find a unity candidate. But even a red dog might make it if all line up behind it.

The opposition has an excellent shot at Merida, Carabobo, Yaracuy and Anzoategui.

Through “dissident” chavistas the states of Aragua and Lara could be denied to Chavez.

Falcon and Bolivar are unpredictable at this time, the personality of the candidates being the key there perhaps more than anywhere else.

Chavismo should retain without problem all of the Llanos state, plus Trujillo, Monagas, Vargas, Sucre and the small Amazonas and Delta Amacuro. Though Sucre might not be a piece of cake depending of who Ramon Martinez decides to support. He has reached his tow term limits and his strong NO campaign almost cost Sucre to Chavez.

But of course if the students decide to run on their own then all bets are off. However that is another story. At least there is one parameter we need not worry about: Chavez starting to take interest in the administration of the country and solving some of the real problems suffered by the populace. From his December activities so far, he does not seem to be willing to make up with the "traidores" and we can expect him adding enemies. He might be erratic enough to lose these regional elections by himself.

-The end-

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