Friday, October 24, 2008

The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 11- The Caracas Metropolitan area

It is time to start making individual predictions. It is not possible to know exactly what is going on in all of the country as many polls are not revealed (if anyone knows of serious polls of local value, please let me know for future entries). But there is enough information to make as of today some educated guesses as to which are the outcomes. I will go area by area as I feel confident enough to discuss the local evolution and hazard some prediction. We will start with the Caracas area, "Region Capital" as the one which is right now with the clearer outlook.

The area is electorally complex as it includes two states, Vargas and Miranda, an independent municipality, Libertador, and an overlay structure that includes Libertador and the municipalities of Miranda that constitute the Caracas Metropolitan area. Thus the chart below which will be the most complex of the series, so bear with me :)

This chart is organized the same as future charts will. First column the state and some noted districts. Second, the current holder. Third, the number of electors in thousands. Then if there has been a reliable poll made available. In fifth what I consider the trend as far as I can tell based on previous results, my evaluation of the campaign and candidates and polls when available. Sixth column is the SI vote in 2007 and finally what I think will be the final result as I write, that is, my bold guess. Just before the vote I will publish a general table with any correction as needed.

Vargas

Let's start with the simplest one. Vargas can be qualified as the ideal chavista state in that it is the state in Venezuela which is perhaps the most dependent on the central government subsidies, the ultimate clientèle state. After the 1999 disaster, in a fit of late guilt, Vargas benefited for a while of all sorts of grants. However the reconstruction of the state, which should have provided it with an economic boom, was a failure, and a corruption hot bed. If to this you add that the two biggest employers are the Caracas Airport and the second harbour of the country, La Guaira, all under political control of the central government, it is easy to realize that Vargas is the state where corruption, political manipulation and posturing are de rigueur. The few private business still surviving in the area report constant harassment by governmental entities that are always on the prowl as the state subsidies are becoming unable to provide for the constantly increasing number of wanna-be leeches.

As such chavismo should have a head start in Vargas for the simple reason that nary a family does not have one of its members depending on a state job or of a Misiones handout and thus all fear for their income were chavismo to lose the state. And yet in December 2007 Vargas only gave 56% yes to Chavez constitutional reform. Still, Vargas should be quite a safe seat but chavismo has managed to put up one of the very worst possible candidates, General Garcia Carneiro, a pseudo revolutionary hero, whose giving ways when he was a minister should make him a shoo in if it were not for his dreadful lack of charisma. To this the aura of inefficacy and the just terrible administration of outgoing governor Rodriguez San Juan have been weighing heavily on the chavista heritage. The opposition unity candidate, Roberto Smith, is infinitely more dynamic and appealing than Garcia Carneiro leaden style and to great surprise Vargas has become a competitive race. I still think that at the end the considerable dependence of the state on Chavez direct stipends will be enough for chavismo to retain the state but it is clear that as of today Smith has an excellent shot at making what would be one of the major upsets of this election.

Libertador

This used to be the ex-federal district which became a lone hanging municipality. It is as such the most populous of the country and more than half of the Caracas Metropolitan area. It has also gigantic neighborhoods of pauper "ranchos" on the hills, in particular in the Southern areas of Antimano and Coche, and more central Cementerio. More than half of the people of the district live in such "ranchos". But the rest is not necessarily much better off. The lower and low middle class districts of La Vega, Coche, El Valle and 23 Enero do contain about a third of the population. In fact there is only a few middle class neighborhoods such as Paraiso, La Candelaria and some "parroquias" of downtown and only two areas that can qualify as middle to higher middle class, El Recreo/El Bosque and La Florida. It was thus a major surprise when the 2007 referendum lost in Libertador when the SI did not even reach 48%!!!

The reason of such a set back is simply the outrageously bad administration of Freddy Bernal, unaccountably reelected 4 years ago when the opposition did not present a candidate for Libertador. If anything his second tenure was worse than his first one and Chavez simply banned him from running anywhere else, pretending he did not exist anymore. Under Bernal Libertador has become a garbage collecting area plagued with horrendous crime statistics, with collapsing infrastructure and public services. Under Bernal the Eastern dwellers of Caracas who would still visit the Solano avenue restaurants, the Florida museums and even the historical district on a Sunday morning have stopped coming. Catia today is something you drive by on your way to the airport. If anyone has divided the city into two estranged zones it is Bernal.

And yet chavismo could manage to retain the district. Not because things have improved, they have not. Not because like Vargas the density of public employees is high and dependent. Not because of its candidate, Jorge Rodriguez who is an untested administrator, a divisive personality, and who carries and aura of cheating, CNE or not, corruption and nepotism. In fact Rodriguez was such a bad choice that there is at least two chavista dissident candidatures running against Rodriguez though they do not seem to be prospering much as Caracas also carries the highest densities of hard core chavista.

No, the reason why Libertador could remain chavista is because the opposition presents itself divided and in addition with two rather lousy candidates.

The more verifiable opposition candidate is Stalin Gonzalez, emanating from the leftist Bandera Roja student body at the UCV. He might be from Bamdera Roja and be called Stalin, but he has demonstrated his political skills and maturity helping in the direction of the student movement successfully during the second half of 2007. Yet it is understandable that many in Libertador wonder how come a freshly graduated student without any administrative experience could deal with the most complex municipal district of Venezuela with Chavez sitting in the middle of its China shop.

Thus the second candidate, opportunist extraordinaire and ex mayor of Libertador himself, Claudio Fermin. If there is a slimy figure that has tried every possible way to survive the political turmoil of Venezuela it is Claudio Fermin who was even presidential candidate in 1993. And this even as he failed his reelection for Libertador under a cloud of corruption, which did not stop him to try at different opportunities to make deals with chavismo.

Why the opposition failed to come with a more convincing candidate will remain one of the great mysteries of this election, and one of its most flagrant failures. Though a last minute deal is always possible. Thus even though Libertador should go to the opposition because of Bernal dreadful tenure and Rodriguez questionable personality, it is still too close to call, and that even if Fermin and Gonzalez manage a deal before November 23.

Caracas Metropolitan District

This overlay district includes Libertador and 4 Miranda districts: Chacao, Baruta, Sucre and El Hatillo. Together these 4 districts constitute barely a third of the electoral population (1 102 000 to Libertador 2 094 000). Yet three of them are the ones that vote the most against Chavez by huge margins that cannot be replicated in Libertador and even less in populous Sucre which now will go big time for Ocariz and Primero Justicia.

Carlos Ocariz has been a diligent activist in Sucre and had it not been for abstention in 2004 he would have unseated then yet another dreadful mayor, Rangel Avalos who made it there only because he was the son of Jose Vicente Rangel, Chavez henchman until 2006. Amazingly Ocariz "si sube cerro", that is, manages to reach the populous lower class neighborhoods of Petare, and even further where some chavistas fear to thread these days. The chavista candidate there is former minister Jesse Chacon, another loser though at least closely associated with Chavez for the hard core believer. So far his campaign has been based on gifts to the people such as washers and refrigerators. This has made him the laughing stock as the hills around Petare are sorely in lack of water and electricity. Ocariz replied easily with "mision agarre" -mission take it anyway-, promising that he will bring water and electricity. The polls are clear, Ocariz should win by no less than 10 points in a district that should be rojo, rojito.

In the table above I have included two sections of Libertador that will go against chavista candidates for sure as they voted NO by margins varying from 5 to 40%! Just adding these two electoral sub-districts to the 4 in Miranda evens up a lot the field for the opposition unity candidate, Ledezma. This one had the misfortune to run against glamour boy Leopoldo Lopez. As such he was low in public opinion polls. When Leopoldo was barred from running he did not want Ledezma to take his unity role and UNT even tried to sneak in at the last moment a substitute for Leopoldo. This was perceived rightly as dirty tricks and arrogance from Leopoldo and thus cost him some political capital. To Ledezma merit he campaigned in earnest, improved his polls some and became a real unity candidate in spite of UNT misgivings. In fact he has been doing quite well and is now on top of serious pollsters as Isturiz seems unable to carry Caracas for his master.

It is not that Isturiz would be such a bad candidate: after the current tenure of Barreto, anyone is an improvement. Barreto might has been an even worse mayor than Bernal, so bad that Chavez has simply forbidden him to run again. His own polls were probably so bad that he did not even entertain the idea of running on his own anyway. Then again Barreto failure was something that anyone should have predicted. To begin with he was elected mayor under historically high abstention for Caracas, garnering barely 390 000 votes in a district which carried then 8 times that many electors! Had the opposition presented a candidate Barreto would have never been elected as even chavistas reject his grotesque actions.

Poor Isturiz must carry that Barreto inheritance, a Barreto who did not even to try to protect his authority over hospitals and the police as he happily surrendered it to the central government making the Mayor of Caracas at large an empty shell for whomever wins next November. It is to be noted that Isturiz is the guy that defeated Fermin for Libertador until in turn he was defeated by Ledezma. People do remember that and even remember Ledezma years when the city was not plagued by trash and street vendors. Isturiz himself was a reasonable mayor of Libertador but that was long ago and since then his servility to Chavez as a controversial education minister is now weighing on him as many independents who could vote for him blame him for Chavez failures.

Thus Ledezma should win without much trouble now that Leopoldo finally has endorsed him. Along the way he should carry the municipal council although the way Caracas electoral districts are drawn it will require him to carry more than 55% to ensure a majority there. Possible but not a sure thing.

Miranda

The last leg of this post is Miranda whose different districts I have highlighted in light orange, to make you understand better the different overlaps.

In a way Miranda is the same story as Caracas Mayor at large in that the heavy anti Chavez area of Caracas represents about a third of the population. But like Libertador Miranda presents pockets of strong opposition, weakening districts for chavismo and districts that cannot grow in pro Chavez vote to compensate for the decline in other districts. To that you add another dismal administration by the leader of chavismo right wing (meaning the one that likes money and corruption) Diosdado Cabello.

Cabello was also narrowly elected because of the heavy abstention of 2004 when Henrique Mendoza was a shoo-in candidate. His major argument then was that with Diosdado there would be a first lady in Miranda, grossly alluding to Mendoza single status as possible homosexuality. Just as it was predictable for Barreto, Cabello failed, though we would have expected more from him as he had exerced some ministerial positions including a brief stint as vice president in 2002. But Diosdado and his relatives are much more interested in money and power to be bothered by solving the problems of the people. Thus when Diosdado saw the first polls that ensured a speedy return of Mendoza he had him barred form running.

The hope there was to crate an opposition division with a more controversial Henrique Capriles Radonski as unity candidate. For a while it worked as a pissed Mendoza had a Leopoldo moment refusing to endorse at first Capriles. There are reasons to doubt Capriles nomination. He is very “Caracas” in his speech, his ways and that will not endear him with rural areas of Miranda and the very popular dormitories of Guarenas and the Tuy valley as they must commute up to 4 hours a day to work for a boss like Capriles. But Capriles has been a reasonable mayor for Baruta, is a popular leader among the Primero Justicia crowds, and is very, very dynamic on the trail, much more than a fat Diosdado who seems still amazed that he needs to campaign for reelection. Now all polls coincide in that Capriles will win and the only question is whether the margin of victory will be more than 10%. I personally think that it will and that Capriles will also carry the legislative vote and probably pick up 2 to 4 town halls, inaugurating perhaps more than a decade of Primero Justicia rule over the state.

In the table above I have added some telltale districts. I have ignored those on the Eastern part of the state as they have low population, little influence and would keep probably a stable pro Chavez vote. Certainly not an increase able to compensate for the areas where chavismo will fall irremediably. The surprise in 2007 for Miranda was populous Guaicaipuro and Guatire/Zamora districts results. Guaicaipuro and Miranda capital Los Teques went NO, in spite of the inauguration of a metro to Caracas (though still not completely functional). Guatire voted NO, barely compensated for by its rural areas thus going overall to SI barely. But Guarenas, a big chavista dormitory went a rather weak 56%. Cristobal Rojas and Paz Castillo, two districts of the Tuy, went heavily for chavismo, thankful I suppose for the Tuy train. But in their success last November we also saw the seed of Diosdado downfall: there is no room to grow there for him. There is a chance for some of these districts to be taken over by the opposition mayor candidates which will be a major blow for chavismo. Though I admit that my predictions might be a tad optimistic. Still, as Sucre is going for Ocariz big time, that by itself would be a major opposition gain in Miranda even if the opposition fails to pick Guaicaipuro or any of Guarenas or Guatire.

Conclusion

All in all this is the best bet for the opposition to make major gains, of those with big potential to influence the future. Except for Libertador, all of its candidates are “new” people, with some administrative experience and political talent, things that are woefully missing within chavismo who has better talent elsewhere, but not in Caracas besides Isturiz.

Historically Caracas has tended to be against the Miraflores tenant, no matter what the color was. These past 10 years of chavista domination can be considered an anomaly. It would not be a surprise for the Caracas region to become the first one to abandon fully chavismo. If Ledezma, Capriles and Ocariz individually score each victories with margins larger than 10% we might be in for 8 years at least of reasonably good administration and opposition domination with dire consequences for chavismo ambitions in the next legislative elections and 2012 presidential election. Not to mention that Ledezma and Capriles would be at hand to direct any future effort to counter Chavez reelection directly from the streets of Caracas with the support of its people. It is in fact amazing that Chavez does not spend more time than he does in Caracas. Perhaps he cannot conceive of Libertador abandoning him. Perhaps he cannot imagine that Petare will vote for Ocariz. But they can and Chavez might be in for a rude awakening.


-The end-

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