Last week Chavez advanced significantly in his desire to perpetuate his rule. He started on the road to the direct control of the banking sector by nationalizing the third largest bank. He published a set of 26 decree laws that forced many of the measures that were rejected by referendum last year. These included among others controlling better the army, diminishing private property rights, controlling the flow of goods within the country and ways to bypass local administrations. Namely, controlling the economy and the people who would control it. And then to finish it up, he banned from politics some of his main adversaries. These last two actions were all upheld by the Constitutional Court of Venezuela even though any enlightened amateur would agree that the constitution was violated in both cases.
The first action to be ruled out is to appeal to the rule of law. Indeed, what tribunal could give you a fair hearing when the constitutional court is now so openly subservient to Chavez? One should not be surprised by the current Constitutional Hall. The court president, to begin with, was fired twice during her previous "career" as a judge. She is the head of the tribunal today because Chavez put her there. On her own, in a normal legal system, Luisa Morales would not even make it to clerk of the high court. She owes it all to him and after been caught voting NO last December, she will have no qualm violating the constitution lest Chavez fires her. Chavez has mastered the art to chose the crooks he needs to do his dirty job, and the ways to blackmail them.
Thus I am putting in a few paragraphs what the opposition should/could/ought to do according to the time table and the urgency.
Build a platform
The first rule to be able to challenge Chavez is to have somewhere to do it from. True, the latest of Chavez measures only prove that he is scared and thus tries to protect himself at any cost, now violating openly the constitution. But no matter how weak and scared he might be, he still has the checkbook and all the institutions that matter. Thus the opposition must put aside ASAP its internal divisions, complete its coalition forming process and campaign as hard as it can, on foot, reaching to the people, not only on TV. It needs to win as many state houses and town halls as it can win. Every one now counts and everyone must be fought for, even in chavista territory as the opposition now ALSO needs to win a majority of the votes.
On the plus side Chavez gave the opposition a powerful set of themes for its campaign. Three months ago I was already suggesting that the opposition should also run on the need to restore the rule of law in addition on how to fix potholes. Now they are forced to do so. On the negative side, Chavez is playing the open confrontation, wishing perhaps to create enough disorder to cancel the elections if his polls are just too bad. The opposition faces the challenge to be strong in the street but not too strong such as not offering an excuse for Chavez to crackdown or annul.
Prepare for November 23
Cheating will take place this time, I can assure you. The opposition must be working hard, really hard, to have witnesses in ALL electoral districts. A single school left unattended is enough to steal from the opposition a town hall in a close election. Also, just as it happened on the night of December 2 2007, some within chavismo will be unwilling to accept defeat (if it loses, of course). That December night it was Chavez who was defeated so not too many chavistas were eager to hit the streets. But November 23 late, a few chavistas running for election would love to hear Chavez announcing that he does not recognize their defeat. This time it is not enough to have witnesses at every voting station, but info should reach oppo headquarters as fast as it reaches the CNE, and processed faster than at the CNE.
Prepare for November 24
Now, just as the campaign gets really started, the opposition must also think about what it will do on November 24 and thereafter. Whichever governors will be sworn in they will find themselves with few resources left and a General of the Army that will block them on many of their actions. It is thus of utmost importance to start planning the strategy to recover the people's rights against the centralization of the state, artfully hidden behind security reasons through the XXI century army missi dominici, and the communal councils, unable to do much without "advice" from Caracas. How to do that? It will depend in part on the results of November 23 and whether Chavez will sort of accept them, albeit temporarily.
The "softer way", waiting for better times and a further weakening of Chavez.
If the results are medium good, the opposition will have to settle for a referendum on the Enabling Law. According to article 74 of the 1999 constitution, we only need 10 % of the registered voters to call an abrogatory referendum on any law we do not like. In fact, for decree laws we only require 5% of the electoral body to sign up!!!! Just with the Tascon list victims already marked for life we get these numbers!!! We can win that one because as it was the case in December 2007, we will not threaten Chavez role directly and thus his hard core supporters will not be as mobilized to vote to defend their man. The opposition can even use it in its campaign strategy, to shore it up some. People such a Goicochea are already promoting this.
It has the advantage of offering a peaceful solution, up to a point anyway. A chastised Chavez might be quiet for a few months until we move on to the next battle, the 2010 legislative elections. It also gives enough time for the new local official to demonstrate that they are better at solving problems than chavismo and thus improve the image of the opposition, allowing for new leaders to gain national projection.
We can dream, can we not?
The "harsher way", confronting evil head on.
There are two degrees here. One is as above plus a recall election on the National Assembly. We move directly into a major political battle that will take all of 2009. Then again, do we have much of a choice after the 26 laws? Success there probably will force an early ouster of Chavez and thus many chavista light might not follow. This strategy requires a rather solid opposition victory, say 10 states.
The next degree is all of the above combined with application of article 350 of the constitution, legal civil disobedience based on the government violating the constitution. Even normally staid Borges delicately hinted at it. A implication of this strategy is to call for a constitutional assembly, the only way to get rid of Ruffian and Morales along Chavez.
This strategy might become the only recourse if Chavez decides to go against the popular will and to become a dictator once and for all. In fact, Chavez feeling lost might deliberately chose that strategy, to provoke the population in some sort of uprising that would enter him as a martyr in history books. He is a coward but he is also in love enough with himself to chose such a thing at this point.
Then all bets are off.