Monday, June 09, 2008

The 2008 election gambles: part 5, hazardous predictions

And now for what the few patient readers who are still following after the previous 4 posts have been waiting for: the first round of predictions (1).

The predictions, round 1

First, let me state that my predictive stunning success for last December vote cannot possibly be replicated this time: local elections have so many parameters that it is impossible for a simple busy follower like me to master them all. I cannot for the life of me discuss in detail the inner politics of, e.g., Trujillo. Fortunately for me those states I know least of seem to be safely in the Chavez column.

This time I will not hazard an actual vote count as I did last year. For the referendum vote, we could assume general abstention trend, general voter support/defection patterns. But for a local election, no matter what the national issues might be, the local factor, the excitement generated or not by the local candidates will play a bigger role in how many people bother to go and vote in Tacusipon.

Right now we can only talk about a trend. Most candidates have yet to be chosen even within the PSUV. Its primary was shown to be a sham, and it is far from ensuring the support of the disgruntled base and the junior allies of chavismo such as the PPT. It is quite possible that by August someone, like Garcia Carneiro in Vargas, is so low in the polls that he might decide not to run and let another chavista try its luck: candidates can register early August, so that leaves us with 2 full month of sotto voce campaigning and polls until the final pro Chavez candidate is finally anointed (PSUV, PPT or else).

On the opposition side, the length of the "survey poll primaries" might ensure, comes August, a better candidate, or at least a clearly established one . But this has yet to happen. The more opposition delays in its agreements, the more time it gives chavismo to catch up from its very late start in deciding who would run in red. Thus we cannot make any serious prediction until September 30, when all candidates will be decided for good and one month of real campaign will have finally taken place.

But this should not stop us form having fun and we move on for the first round of reckless electoral predictions. This, of course, without forgetting that much more than who will pick the garbage we might be playing out the future of the country next November.

How the chart was designed

You might want to open the chart in a different window to follow better.

The chart lists the different Venezuelan states organized by regions. The names of the states are aligned on the left of the first column. For some states I have included some significant districts that tell us a lot on how things are moving. The names of these districts are aligned right in the same first column. I have included past results (rounded percentile votes cast at the date).

In red we have the states where chavismo won, and in blue the anti chavismo states. Orange are the states which started chavista and ended up independent or anti Chavez as their governors broke with Chavez. Green are the rare districts that could almost pretend to some independent status.

In the sixth column I am putting the prediction. This time no percentile prediction or vote count: a state is won or lost, period. In pink will be the states tending Chavez (sorry, Excel does not allow for a lighter red). Light blue of course means tendency toward the opposition. And in gray I indicate the states which right now can be considered too close to call.

Each column represents an election (I have skipped the 2005 ones which are totally meaningless, and the 2004 recall election which was such a special election that it is of no use to draw trends, though it would look a lot as the 2004 regional elections). In order: the 2000 local result, the 2004 local result, the 2006 presidential result and last December referendum.

The predictions on June 2008

Zulia. Let's start with the richest state of all in voters, and the easiest state to discuss, even if I placed it at the bottom of the chart. Zulia has had an historical tendency to drift away from whoever was in charge in Caracas. When Venezuela was AD, COPEI slowly crept in. When COPEI/AD ruled during Caldera 2, it shifted to Arias Cardenas in a pre-Chavez era mood. It is thus no surprise that the state with perhaps the strongest local character in Venezuela (music, cuisine, heat, all is different there than from the rest of Venezuela) would have felt very unconformable about Chavez using the oil pumped from under its feet to feed its ego trip.

The percentage of the state voting against chavismo clearly tends to go up. Chavez himself is liked enough, he won in 2006, but not impressively as elsewhere. If you look at the three towns I chose, this is confirmed. In 2000 Di Martino won Maracaibo easily in a pro Chavez fervor, though Rosales managed to carry the state, if barely (Venezuelans love to cross over their votes). But in 2004, even as the whole country went red, Di Martino barely made it; since Maracaibo has seen its anti Chavez number rise steadily. Popular San Francisco South of Maracaibo or Cabimas across the bridge also show a similar pattern even if less marked.

Chavismo has decided to run Di Martino anyway, as he cannot run again for Maracaibo again. I cannot see how Di Martino can win Zulia, though paradoxically he might be the best candidate chavismo could field in Zulia (the others such as Cabezas or Ortega never caught there in spite of their long tenure in parliament). I expect Zulia to be carried by the opposition, which in addition should get the top prize of Maracaibo and possibly a very large majority of the state districts. In short, chavismo risks to be shut out of Zulia: they might still get more than 40% of the votes but these will be evenly distributed thus creating a nice advantage for the Rosales led coalition, perhaps nearing a clean sweep.

The Llanos. The other easy to discuss region is the great plains of Venezuela, half way in the chart. They offer us the reverse observations of Zulia: they seem to be pretty proud of their Llanero president (Barinas is the home state) and we can expect a chavista clean sweep even if an occasional small district changes hands. Or can we?

The Llanos have tended to be AD. This one did the only real agrarian reform of Venezuela (the Chavez one is a joke). When AD collapsed, it was natural for its inhabitants to drift to chavismo, which was perceived by them as the left wing that AD had lost. Let's not forget that chavista did not appear as a spontaneous generation, out of nowhere: most of them were all their lives either AD or COPEI or MAS. Chavismo is also a macho party and that resonates well with the local habits of the Llanos which have never quite overcome the Doña Barbara civilization.

No problem here, even if there was a slight fall back in 2007, the trend is clear, the Llanos remain solidly in Chavez camp. But there are clouds on the horizon.

Barinas, which I put in pink as tending to Chavez, might have problems. Adam Chavez, the first brother's candidature ,seems to have been imposed over there. The Chavez brothers have become quite unpopular in Barinas as they have been perceived has reaching easy wealth fast, quite fast, quite suspiciously. In addition Barinas folk expect that being the home state of Chavez they should be much, much better off than what they are (paternalism has a way to come to bite their practionners). Scandals have been occurring enough in Barinas that we could have a surprise and Adam could well bite the dust if his campaign turns bad. He has a very wooden personality, very sectarian and I doubt that he will be campaigning very convincingly. The Llanos state to watch!

Just a warning note on Portuguesa. This one could be the safest bet as its results have been the most consistent. Yet, chavismo is at odds there with the PPT who thinks they have a stronger candidate. Right now it seems that chavismo will run two candidates. Yet the overall pro Chavez feeling there might be enough that chavismo may be able to afford a divided ticket and still win, in particular if the PSUV elected appointee flounders (oxymoron intended). This one, Castro Soteldo, is a rather lackluster military that has been imposed in the area and who barely got half of the votes in the PSUV primary. Thus Chavez might still win but not with the man he wants. Anyway, at this point I do not see the opposition being able to take advantage of that local situation and Portuguesa should remain red.

Guarico also offers a similar situation. Lara, the ineffable professional liar ex Information Minister somehow got dispatched there and only made 43% at the PSUV primary. Eight years ago he was running for Miranda state where he got unbelievably trounced by Mendoza. The current holder of the state house is not amused. Manuitt, barred from running again would like a relative to succeed him and counts discretely on the PPT to put pressure on the PSUV. That Manuitt is a possible criminal and mafia like governor does not stop him to pretend to rule the state after his departure. Could Guarico become an unexpected opportunity for the opposition?

No matter, I think at this point that chavismo is so far ahead in the Llanos that the opposition can expect at best to pick one state. And that if they put their act together because if chavistas settle their issues by September, it will be difficult to pick even Barinas.

The South (Guayana). These three states are today's "frontier" regions of sorts. Delta Amacuro and Amazonas are now ruled by strong chavista sycophants in the name of the native folks who still think that the pro native rights 1999 constitution really were meant for them. It did on paper but not quite on practice (see my Delta Amacuro posts). They have in fact become a group completely dependent of chavismo largesses, without the means to show any independence of will. In fact, the political battles are inside the chavista camp as the opposition groups are basically powerless there and of no interest for the natives.

Bolivar is another matter. The mining state, with huge public sector, and a growing one after the take over of SIDOR, was for a while a secure state for chavismo. But the incredibly bad administration of general Rangel (running again though barely getting the PSUV nod) has created lots of internal battles within chavismo. Trade unions, public servants, mining mafias and military are fighting it out for the control of the state and the opposition could well have better chances there than one would think of. After all, the trend is clearly down for chavismo and the question is how the negative slope will hold.

The Andes. Another easy area to discuss. The Andes went again all chavista in 2004, with better margins. There chavismo truly helped remote areas that had been neglected for a log time. In 2004 the agrarian policies and the FARC problems had not affected the area too much. Yet many people were surprised at the clean sweep of chavismo in 2004. But the fall was as fast as the rise! Trujillo, the poorest of the three, remained chavista in 2006 and 2007, but Tachira offered the best score to Rosales in 2006, and, again, the best NO score in 2007. The almost as dramatic drop in Merida is also influenced in part by the Tachira situation.

What happened? Well, the ambiguous security policies of Chavez have had a clear effect on the border. Letting the FARC hang around with all the crime that comes along, letting contraband of gasoline toward Colombia go through, has greatly perturbed the economic system of the area and its quality of life. Kidnappings, blackmails, "vacunas" are the norm of there and have brought it in a chronic depression now greatly accelerated as the recent Colombo-Venezuelan spat has decreased the border activity by 60%. Tachira and Merida are now two sure picks for the opposition. Besides the chavista candidates sent over there do not seem to carry much popular fervor with them and failed to make convincing shows at the PSUV primaries in Tachira.

Yet the opposition could still manage to blow it as too many candidates want these all but certain jobs. In particular many ghosts from the past have a hard time to understand that their time has gone. Merida is the most vulnerable on thsi respect, and I had to think about putting it blue instead of light blue.

Centro Occidente. Now we start getting into the more complex areas of the country and I will need to look at some town halls to find clues. Let's go by states.

Falcon is the simplest of the lot. It went surprisingly for chavismo in 2000, not even reaching the 50% mark. The governor, a relatively young military, did a good enough job and benefited from the 2003 strike crisis which dramatically polarized Punto Fijo, the main town there. Yet, as any rather uncouth soldier, his reelection brought out the true Montilla out: nepotism and arrogance became felt around and if Chavez was nicely reelected there in 2006, it was a stunning surprise to see that the NO barely missed that state in 2007 (in fact, it was a the only split state where one question was SI and the other NO). Now Falcon is undecided though chavismo should be able to recoup enough to sneak in. It will all depend on the candidate that the opposition manages to field as personality might be the main issue there: Montilla is running his wife!

Lara is a very interesting case. First, there was the stunning NO victory in 2007. That one was due strictly to the large NO votes of the two main districts, Barquisimeto and its suburb Cabudare. Yet Barquisimeto major Henry Falcon was riding rather high in the polls. What has happened there is that the fight between the ineffectual governor Reyes Reyes and Falcon has crated a deep rift within chavismo. In fact chavismo tried to block Falcon nomination but when he announced that he would run with or without Chavez blessing, Chavez had to relent and sure enough once allowed to run, Falcon won easily the PSUV primary last Sunday.

I do put Lara as too close to call because it is difficult to decide how much that chavismo division played: after all it was enough for that stunning NO last year. Reyes Reyes might secretly root for a Falcon defeat. Even Chavez might not cry much if Falcon loses as he is considered a chavista that places good management above unconditional loyalty to anyone, a rarity inside chavismo these days. It will all depend on who does the opposition fields for Barquisimeto district. This one carries about half of the state votes and thus a surprising opposition victory in Barquisimeto coupled with an embittered chavismo sector could give a surprise at state level. Still, at this point the opposition does not seem to be able to field a good candidate for the state house and I expect Falcon to have maybe a short but clear victory no matter what. However he could end up with a state legislature that will not be friendly to him, a possible split state. In fact, his relative good tenure at Barquisimeto might make many opposition electors vote for him for the job but against him at the state legislature, leaving the group hostile in general as hard core chavista would not mind voting agaisnt his proposals and budgets on occasion.

Yaracuy is a real enigma. The current governor, indicted and yet not placed on the Russian list, has been disowned by the PSUV but will apparently run again on his own. He will not win as his administration has been a disgrace: only the rabble rouser of the state might still back him up. In addition a rather discredited chavismo is fielding a local Taliban who scares everyone and who lost any previous electoral attempts he run at. He got the nomination because, in my opinion, no one with a real chance within chavismo wanted to waste it on what seems a sure defeat.

But is it a sure defeat for chavismo? I am not so sure. If there is one thing that Gimenez has succeeded is to get rid of his main rival, governor Lapi, who is now living in exile on trumped up judicial charges. This scandalous situation has not been effectively fought by his supporters and the Lapi movement, based as chavismo on a strong leader, is crumbling. The opposition is divided and no clear candidate is emerging to pick the pieces. If you look at the three main districts of Yaracuy, you can see by yourself that there is no trend. Yaritagua might seem to get closer to chavismo Independencia and San Felipe seem to become slowly more and more anti Chavez. All will be played on the country side vote: if the chavista candidate manages to inspire the peasantry, so to speak, he might win. If he fails to connect, the opposition might be strong enough in the cities to recover Yaracuy. We can also expect in Yaracuy a legislature of a different color than the governor, whichever side gains the much deteriorated mansion. One thing is certain: Giménez will end in jail for sure, probably before the election if necessary to improve Heredia's chances. In short I put right now a "too close to call" because simply we cannot get a sense for anything here yet even though I could probably put it already light blue.

Oriente. The tourist area of Venezuela suffers of spit personality at all levels. While in Monagas chavismo seems to dominate every day more, in the other three states nobody knows for sure what is going on.

In Monagas PDVSA rules. The country side is rather quiet because it is not very settled and thus agrarian problems are not as notorious there. The current governor, who apparently was not too bad, should have no problem to be reelected. Monagas, by the way, is another state which shifted easily from AD to Chavez. Still, the mayor of Maturin is not happy at not having been given the governor nod. Not enough to make Briceño stumble but forcing him to campaign more than he planned.

In Nueva Esparta, in spite of a consistent strong chavista vote, the opposition tends to dominate. Margarita has a much divided population between those who benefit from tourism and those who must clean their bathrooms. Yet, the agonizing free trade zone has made tourism less remunerative for the island as more cheap stakes visit than before. The government has failed to solve the water, electricity, transport, ferry problems and AD amazingly managed to retake the island in 2004. Today the governor should be reelected without any problem as even many chavista supporters realize that the lousy mass tourist schemes of the government are not only failing but are depriving them of those tourists who leave a good tip when they are happy with how clean their hotel room is. In addition the rumors of a terrible new Tourism law would play heavily against chavismo there.

Anzoategui, our next step, is more complex. The current governor, Tarek Saab, former human right defender turned local arrogant potentate has been bad news for he state. The tendency of chavismo to consolidate its hold of the state seems to have reverted even though like in Monagas PDVSA rules there. Anzoategui is a clear case of electoral problems due to incompetence and the only surprise here is that chavismo in lack of a good candidate decided to allow Tarek to run again (he did not even reach 50% on the PSUV primary!). The opposition should win there, even if barely. However as a PDVSA dependent state, a few largesses could go a long way to allow Tarek to retain his chair, even if barely. Still, the opposition should at least conquer the state legislature.

Of the lot, beach splendid Sucre is the most complex to scrutinize. Its governor, Ramon Martinez, cannot run again. And in addition he went all the way against Chavez and helped a lot in the defeat of the referendum. Even though the 74% Chavez vote in 2006 would have us think that the 2007 SI result would be a shoo in, it was a squeak in! Martinez is prepping a successor and will certainly campaign strongly for whoever is the nominee from the opposition side. Even though he is a dubious reputation, Martinez has impeccable left credentials and if the opposition can put its act together, Sucre could well fall. Thus the status of too close to call: very Chavez friendly but now too divided to be a sure bet. Besides the PSUV primaries did not show any rising chavista leader there, the PSUV campaign will need to promote its nominee, even if he is Cumana's mayor, before it can be competitive.

The industrial heartland. Carabobo and Aragua own the bulk of Venezuelan industry. As such they have been hard hit by the 2003 strike but they have failed to recover in spite of the growth boom. All the industries that survived the strike work at full speed but many never reopened and few new stuff was built. As a consequence real jobs in production have not grown much. Politics were rough there too as chavismo tried to promote its trade unions, force the burping general on Carabobo and eventually fought with Didalco Bolivar, the governor reelected with he highest result in 2000, a stunning 85%. Now Aragua gave a meager 53 SI, while Carabobo who for a while seemed to go Chavez went 53 for the NO in spite of a weak opposition organization who collapsed once the Salas lost office (personal movements always fail once their leaders are overthrown).

Prediction is not easy even if we look at the tend of the cities highlighted. In Aragua it is clear that Maracay and la Victoria are getting disenchanted with chavismo even if he still wins. If Didalco manages to tie up a nice coalition led by PODEMOS, Aragua will go away of chavismo which will be a major disaster as 4 years ago it was considered an impregnable bastion. Chavismo just picked Isea for the job. He comes from the finance ministry where he did not shine much. He has a shifty look which might not help him much on the trail. A weak candidate if you ask me. But Chavez needed a faithful in Maracay where too many military interests are at stake. Right now the long leftist tradition of Aragua gives the state to Chavez, but if the opposition accepts to rally solidly behind PODEMOS a surprise could be in the making. No matter what, for the time being I expect a close result for chavismo.

In Carabobo chavismo has made the mistake of dispatching Mario Silva of the most infamous La Hojilla VTV show. A divisive, hateful personality, he will polarize the state and will discourage many chavistas. With a good campaign Carabobo could come back for the opposition with a bang. The trends are clear, even in Puerto Cabello chavismo is weakening. It is amazing that chavismo has sent a candidate with no electoral experience and the most vulgar personality we can think of, a true insult to the Carabobo people. Then again La Hojilla had really high ratings there?

Caracas. All eyes are on Caracas. If it is already normal since Caracas metro area holds maybe more than a quarter of Venezuela's vote, it is also a dramatic battle for the prestige of Chavez. If the opposition manages the sweep of Caracas town halls, it would be considered by itself a major disaster for chavismo.

But let's start by the surrounding two states, heavenly influenced by whatever happens to Caracas.

Vargas is the long suffering state of the 1999 disaster. Amazingly, the more Chavez beats Vargas up, the more it seems to vote for the guy. Yet.... The current governor, the classical fat general, has been a disaster, often berated by Chavez himself. And the one that Chavez wanted to run, Garcia Carneiro has the personality of a rotten fish floating on La Guaira harbor. Clearly the opposition has a chance there. But of course no one knows how deep the codependency of the locals goes... I think that in the end Vargas should go Chavez but it is not a given.

Miranda on the other hand seems a sure pick. It has more than one candidate for the opposition that draws crowds whereas Diosdado Cabello has been a lousy governor, a much questioned one in addition. Yet chavismo decided to have him run again. The evolution of the different districts bode ill for Diosdado: the already bloated opposition margins in Baruta, Hatillo, Chacao, Salias seem to grow further, while bastions like Guaicaipuro and Guatire are far from being a sure thing next November. The Guatire loss in December 2007 was widely noted as Guatire was a district where the chavismo coalition could run in divided ranks and still win without any problem. Tough road for Diosdado: not only he is set to lose but he could lose by as much as 10 points. Then again he has only himself to blame as his tenure was much more concerned in pillaging and politics than actual community problem solving, counting too much on Chavez inaugurating public works to reflect good on Diosdado.

Now Caracas at large, the headache of chavismo. Prestige wise the loss of Caracas would be a major blow for Chavez, thus all the guns have been aligned. Barreto, an awful, truly awful mayor, has been tossed out. Bernal has been sent to political death by running for Vargas where he badly lost. Isturiz, a former Libertador mayor who did serve not too shabbily then had been dragged from a possible retirement to run for Caracas. But it might not be enough. Isturiz is black, that is not a problem as he was already elected once. But his blackness has become an issue as his long tenure at the education ministry has revealed a mean streak in him, a resentment that we did not know from him when he was a trade union activist, speaking for all workers. His best merit is that the could indeed motivate and unite the chavista base, but that might not be enough.

The two districts currently run by chavismo, Libertador and Sucre, are also the ones with the largest population and all the shanty towns. This solid base is not a solid as it used to be. 8 years of truly bad management by Rangel and Bernal have exacted a toll: the barrios now do not vote as massively as before, and not as massively for Chavez. In Sucre Ocariz of Primero Justicia almost won in 2004 in spite of the huge abstention movement. This time Ocariz might even win in Petare and other popular districts. A strong win by Ocariz could play against Isturiz for Caracas. Thus Isturiz chances depend heavily on how large a victory chavismo gets in Libertador.

But in Libertador things are not easy. This most chavista of districts, home of the choice fanatics such as Lina Ron or the president of the National Assembly Cilia Flores, has suffered too much under the painful physical degradation of Caracas. The 52 point loss of 2007 was perhaps in fact surprisingly low. There reaches a point where even the more driven supporter starts wishing that the garbage were to be picked up more regularly.

Chavismo dispatched Jorge Rodriguez to run for Libertador. If he certainly has name recognition and is totally identified with Chavez, he is also a divisive personality, with a mean streak and now perceived as a liar as of his fake impartial pretense when he was at the CNE. Truly the kind of candidate you would not leave your wallet alone with. I suppose that the gamble of chavismo there is the same as sending Silva to Carabobo: send a controversial candidate to motivate the chavista mean base. But chavismo has also a more moderate base that can be put off by people like Rodriguez or Silva while at the the same time these candidates do stimulate the opposition to vote. Rodriguez and Silva are not the kind of candidate that benefit from a long campaign, but they are perfect if you think that negative campaigning is the way to go: you will not find anyone viler than these two.

As a final note on Caracas I think that the truly bad administration of Barreto and Bernal will be the best visiting cards for the opposition and Isturiz for all the good memories he might generate in some quarters of Libertador will have hard time to overcome the negatives. If his campaign is not well run, we could see a clean opposition sweep of the area, the most dreaded result of all for chavismo. That explains why Leopoldo Lopez has been banned: he runs high in any poll of any district in Caracas. Even if chavismo manages to bar Lopez from running, the intention will be so clear that it could hurt chavismo by promoting abstention in its ranks.


Here I post a simplified chart that I will update in future posts. I also added at the bottom the state count election after election. Thus my prediction at this moment is 7 sure for the opposition, 1 very likely and 3 undecided. Thus even if everything goes well, I am not expecting more than a total of 11 states for the opposition, though those include the biggies. And please, if this exercice is fun, it should not distract us from the real aims of chavismo, to have president for life. Their attempts might look foolish recently but with oil at 130, all is possible. That is why the opposition should pick whatever it can with the clear idea that it is just a step on the way to save the country. Politicians might pretend not be aware of this but the opposition voters know it very well and they will punish at the polls if necessary.

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1) Previous posts on this subject:

Chavez motivations
Chavez strategy
Opposition options
What is at stake
Predictions June 2008 (this one).

-The end-

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