Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 1

And thus it is already time to do the first update on the 2008 regional election series. Fortunately it will be easy to write as nothing much has changed from what I wrote at first. Still, the new events are important enough to deserve an update.

The PSUV primary: how much of a sham it was?


Over the past three weeks it has become clear that the so vaunted PSUV primaries were after all an exercise in futility if not an outright fraud. Why should anyone be surprised? In retrospect I am certainly happy I did not waste much time discussing them because, well, it would have been a pure waste.

The PSUV of Chavez got off at bad start: it was designed to be the PSUV of Chavez. As it is invariably the case with political parties set up to support a strong leader rather than responding to true needs of the populace, it was destined to fail. The surprise here is that it took so little time for the PSUV to show signs of wear and tear.

Thus in a vain effort to boost its sagging fortunes Chavez decided (was forced to?) to hold primary elections to allow internal ventilation of issues in such a heterogeneous construct as the PSUV. But to make sure things did not get out of control, the "primary season" would be reduced to its strict minimum. That is, any possible internal campaign would be circumscribed to a couple of weeks at best. In addition, in places where Chavez was not sure to have his handpicked choice win the primary, he made sure to have plenty of candidates to minimize the chances that any would cross the magic 50% mark. If no one crossed that mark Chavez was all but certain to be able to pick his choice provided this one got at least 20%.

Initially it seemed that Chavez was going to get away with his scheme as he got pretty much all what he wanted except in Lara where he had to concede an early defeat to Henry Falcon. But within a week accusations of fraud started flying within PSUV. And in recent days some have decided to run on their own anyway or are making a true scandal to have the original "winner" resign. See, the polls have also started coming in and when candidates are named more because of their loyalty to Chavez instead of their local field work, well, you are bound to get problems. And let's not even get into the minority partners of the Chavez (PPT and other crumbs that are not even getting the little bit promised).

Last Tuesday Chavez's speech and his attacks on Acosta Carles, the Carabobo governor that Chavez refused to let run again, are the recognition of the inside PSUV troubles that Chavez has created for himself. Right now the nominees of several states and cities are so questioned that it is doubtful that they will become in the end the final PSUV standard bearers. These candidates in trouble, barely two weeks into their campaign, include: Libertador-Caracas (Jorge Rodriguez), Carabobo (Silva), Sucre-Caracas (Jesse James Falcon), Anzoategui, Barcelona, Tachira, Barinas (even the Chavez fiefdom cannot escape trouble), Bolivar, Portuguesa, and more.

The incredible paradox here is that chavismo who was supposed to be all set and running by late June has about half its candidates up in the air! The question here is whether Chavez planned it all, or if it just a plain mess. After all it is quite possible that Chavez previewed such a disorder and his strategy was to be called upon to solve the conflicts and get everywhere the man he wants, even if s/he loses. At this point Chavez hubris and paranoia have gone so far that he probably prefers an opposition governor than a chavista he does not feel comfortable with.....

The opposition crawl

The main beneficiary of the PSUV discomfiture is of course the opposition who finds itself with better electoral chances that are not of its own doing, but courtesy of Chavez errors.

The snail pace of the opposition to put together a list of united candidates is not becoming a problem because of the obvious failure of the PSUV primaries. What would have been a powerful political tool for chavismo, to accuse the opposition of being unable to hold "democratic" primaries as they did, has been voided. In fact, the system of slow debate and polls would have seem to be preferable for the PSUV and its unloved allies.

Still, the opposition is running into some local trouble that could hurt the unity image so required by its electorate. But if situations like Chacao are close to ridicule, there have been other instances where already candidates did the appropriate withdrawal of their name paving the way to a unity candidate (Maracaibo withdrawal of the PJ candidate in favor or Rosales was a milestone of sorts). Let's hope that the trends continues.

Polls

Polls are ridiculous at this time because, well, in three quarters of the districts we still do not know who will be the final candidates, and this for each side! This strange situation seems to be favoring the opposition as recent polls are now willing to give to the opposition a net pick up of ten governorships. I am not that optimist: after all Chavez has been unable to launch his full campaign mode as he is distracted by his internal PSUV woes (not to mention the need to mend the economy one way or the other so that it looks better 4 months form now, a new meaning for "¡Misión Imposible!").

Yet the signs are clear, from the meager Oscar Schemmel prediction of 5 to 7 states won, we have now the distinct possibility with other pollsters that the total could go as high at 10 states, including almost all the most populous ones. Some observers are even mentioning the number 14.

At any rate, I still hold by my predictions as I will not reevaluate them until I know which are the final candidates. Suffice for the reader to know that these days I am finding myself slightly more optimistic, but also somewhat more worried as I am sure that Chavez must be following polls closely, which seems to make him desperate and thus more dangerous.

-The end-

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