There has been much talk about the dissidence effect on chavismo vote last November. And yet, nothing came of it except perhaps in Barinas where there are even rumors of cheating in this most important of states for the Chavez “famiglia” as Teodoro Petkoff calls it these days. Yet, for all its victories chavismo has not much else to cheer about as the price paid for having forced these dissidents to run might be a lower score next February, losing votes where chavismo does not need to lose them.
The dissidence: definitions
Definitions is in plural because there are many ways to define the dissidence. The first definition is that the dissidence was all with Chavez until 2007. Then PODEMOS left and it took it a full year until it finally was able to make some electoral agreements with the opposition. The toll has been terrible for PODEMOS which has lost its two power centers of Sucre and Aragua. Yet PODEMOS still managed to get some votes that can be useful for future bargains. Also, by being hit so hard PODEMOS sorts of pays an atonement and next elections it will be able to negotiate better deals with the opposition while attracting disaffected chavista voters that could vote for PODEMOS but never for, say, AD or Primero Justicia.
The second group of dissidents is more recent and not as complete. It has two sources. The first group of dissidents is the PPT and the PCV. These two party gripe is that they think they represent more electoral weight than what Chavez is willing to give them. In all fairness he is not willing to give them anything anyway, but let’s not go into details. Thus PPT and PCV after having refused to join the PSUV did sort of manage to pretend to be allies. But Chavez was furious and refused. As a consequence the PPT and the PCV some times together, some times separated decided to launch some of their own candidates although on occasion one of these two groups did file with the PSUV. Neither can they be considered allies of Chavez but neither can they be considered as having broken with chavismo. I suspect that the final break will come eventually for the PPT, but the price it will pay will be far worse than PODEMOS, without the possibility to make occasional arrangements with the opposition.
Finally the third dissidence is really confined to the state of Barinas. There the abuses of the Chavez family who have treated their home state as their personal property have really upset many of the natives. There a real dissidence movement was created and almost beat Adan Chavez himself. The reason was that this type of dissidence was able to attract many opposition voters.
To try to make sense of this issue I have limited myself to the governor votes. IF we look at the district level it becomes quickly very complex and not that much more telling anyway. In the table below I have shown the Chavez vote since 2004, in red. The opposition vote since 2004 is shown in blue and in orange the dissidence vote this time around. Since alliances do shift you will note that in Aragua, for example, PODEMOS is red in 2004 and 2006 but blue in 2007 and 2008. By state, click to enlarge, as usual.
This was the big loss for PODEMOS who held that state through Didalco Bolivar since 1995. Such a long tenure did have a price and when the very well financed campaign of Isea rolled in including distribution of refrigerators, Henry Rosales could not recoup. There was also the mystery of why Didalco did not participate that much in the campaign. If that was a strategic decision then it was a mistake. If not, maybe Didalco wanted to rest his old days (he is rumored to have cancer) and did not want to have Chavez perturb his retirement.
If PODEMOS loses half its electoral base, it is also noteworthy to point that PPT/PCV who there supported the PSUV candidate did a very meager 2.54%. Clearly the PSUV has been sucking in all the “left” vote as people now identify PSUV and Chavez, “the real thing” of sorts. Still, a near 40% for the opposition in difficult conditions is not a shabby result, it is in fact a solid base to build on since it is difficult for Chavez to progress further in Aragua. I have the feeling that Isea is just another crook and he will not do very well in Aragua. The opposition can hope to repeat its 47% NO next February, after all it is starting from 40% when in 2007 it was starting from the paltry 28% of 2006.
This was a state where for a while the dissident was heralded, and imploded. Then the opposition guy was given good chances but in the end the PSUV run over all opposition. PPT/PCV decided to go it on their own. Why? Who knows! Because neither in 2006 or 2004 they had numbers that would allow them to dream of conquering Trujillo some day. Apparently it was the dissidence of sitting governor Viloria that opened the door. But clearly Trujillo wants chavismo, and wants it bad. In fact, even the opposition drops some respective to previous elections which might indicate that some did buy the argument that the PPT/PCV could win. Still, the bitter defeat of the dissident option allows us to hope that the NO vote will be maintained next February, through we cannot hope to reach 40% there.
Guarico was a stronger option for the dissidence. After all in 2006 the PPT was able to bring almost 20% of the Chavez vote. Even the candidate, the daughter of the sitting governor barred from a third term was appealing enough to dismiss the nepotism charges. And yet in Guarico the PCV did not follow the tainted Manuitt administration. Nor did the opposition for that matter: too soon. It is to be noted that the opposition in Guarico is particularly weak, with a peak of barely 28% in 2006. Thus even a good cross over effect might not have been enough. Yet, when we see the final result we do not know what the dynamic of unity behind Manuitt’s daughter would have caused. However one thing is almost certain in Guarico: the bitterness of the PPT loss there makes it a good candidate to increase the NO vote which was an already surprising 42% high in 2007. The PSUV victory does not seem strong enough and the new governor patsy enough that Guarico could well vote NO in February!
That was the most exciting race in Venezuela, though it became exciting in the end once Miranda seemed gained for the opposition. There the dissidence almost made it and if the opposition candidate had had the good sense of retiring an upset would have been quite possible. In fact the cross over is clear: the opposition got 31% in 2006 and only 5% this time. That is 5 in 6 opposition voters went ahead and voted for the dissident candidate, who is today claiming fraud, by the way.
This is the kind of victory that shakes Chavez, the more so that in Barinas the PPT and PCV decided to be prudent and follow Chavez brother (not that it will help them much in the end but one can always hope, no?). But they made a mistake because there was also a cross over vote in their rank as this two parties went down from 7% in 2006 to 2% in 2008. Sometimes one is wiser to look more closely at the local conditions. Note that Barinas had a solid 44% NO in 2007. Expect a possible NO victory in 2009.
This one turned out to be the least interesting of the lot. But it should be mentioned anyway. It is pretty much the same story as Trujillo except that this time around the retiring governor did help the PSUV and manage to bring in the victory. However good that victory is it bodes ill for 2009. If the SI is almost certain to take that state once again, you can expect this time the bitterness of the 2008 campaign to spill over into a 40%+ count for the NO.
The failure of the PPT/PCV challenges is due to two basic facts 1) they misread the numbers assuming that their share was untainted by the Chavez love of the lower classes that both PPT and PCV were also supposed to represent and 2) they assumed that the opposition was dead and that they did not need it to win. But the opposition not only was not dead but bet them in Trujillo and Portuguesa, creating further embarrassment for them.
Now both PPT and PCV faces the dire choice of trying to get inside the PSUV as second class party members with little or no future, or take the jump and break, at a much bigger cost than PODEMOS who has reached bottom and can only go up no. In other words PPT and PCV face at least two years of wilderness and the possibility of being excluded from parliament in 2010. My advice to them? Campaign for the NO in February so as to pay your dues as fast as possible and clean your image toward the opposition and PODEMOS with which you could actually create a “third way” that could get a 20% in 2010. Chavez is going to eat you alive otherwise, and the better if he pretends to be nice with you so as to get your support in February.
The Barinas case is much more interesting and a clear message to any PSUV politico that thinks of defecting. If you do it right, with proper timing, you can actually rescue your political career. The guy that lost in Barinas is almost 1005 certain to be elected to the National assembly in 2010, with the opposition vote to boot.