Thus this post will be organized in small, parts to address simply the main points.
Why Chavez increased his vote?
Very simple: he made a campaign blitz as we had never seen before, forcing all public administration employees to hit the streets all the time, threatening, blackmailing, and what not. Of course, state money use was no object. And yet the rather dismal campaign closing show of Avenida Bolivar indicates that the SI vote was one of lassitude rather than one of certainty, as if many of his supporters thought "well, we are stuck with him, he will never give up, we might as well give him what he wants to see if he leaves us alone for a while".
The machinery in the country side was spectacular as people were carted and monitored all along. I have a friend who happened to be the president of a voting "mesa" in a pro Chavez district, even though she is opposition. She told me that:
- at 5:30AM she had to start her day with an argument against the military in charge of the security because there were plenty of chavista supporters trying to hide their support with hats that simply had a red star on it or some other allusive item. She threatened to put a white hat herself to finally force them naked head.
- as the vote proceeded she had to fight back attempts at voting "in company" as the military in charge said he did not see why people could not take a "trusted friend" along to vote. Even the CNE representative had to side with my friend, rule book in hand, to explain once and again that only physically handicapped people were allowed to bring someone along.
- then she counted at least half a dozen "returning voters", as in people that had not voted in years who suddenly appeared, all expenses paid from wherever they had moved to in Venezuela, to vote for the SI.
So in fact the question might be: with all this display of brute strength how come Chavez got ONLY 54%?
Free and fair elections?
No way, not at all. Those who pretend to the contrary are simply either uninformed or are plain liars. Your choice. If you still think otherwise, well, you have not read what I just wrote above.
Why the opposition lost
Very simple, it could not go beyond the No es No slogan, never replied to the charge that it was going to kill the Misiones, even though these are working less and less well, killed by chavismo inefficacy and corruption. In fact I suspect that the students are solely responsible for the opposition maintaining and increasing its vote count.
If to this you add the grotesque abuses of Chavez, well, there is no mystery.
Again, as long as the political leadership of the opposition does not unite behind a clear message and at least a clear shared leadership, Chavez will win. Even if there is an economic crisis because Chavez will always have more money than the opposition and will not be afraid to use even worse tactics than what he has done so far. Period.
How the vote moved
The interesting fact of this vote result is that both chavismo and anti chavismo increased their vote counts, a rather unusual event in elections. On this respect my very cautious and not optimistic predictions went down anyway. I made three predictions: that the opposition would get at least 4.763.000 votes and it did, which is score one for me; that the NO would win narrowly, thus score 0 for me; that chavismo would get more than what it got in November which it did but no more than 5.188.000 while it went almost a million above, big score -1 for me. However getting back to check my predictions I realized with great horror that this 5.188.000 number I reported was wrong, not what I had calculated in my tables (it should have been the 5.300 of 2008). Oh well, too bad, I am screwed anyway. I need an editor... but then again none of you caught my mistake!
How did this play out at the national level? I did use the CNE results of the first bulletin and for the table below I did not bother checking how these had changed with the third bulletin , it would not matter much for what I have to say (by the way, is it that not EXTRAORDINARY that the CNE has the nearly complete results of last Sunday and we are still waiting for the 2007 complete results? Am I the only one bothered by that at this point?)
In the table below what I simply did was to highlight the results where one side increased its vote, at every level, from one election to the next (red chavismo, blue oppo). You can observe by yourself the interesting phenomenon that in 2007 ALL went down for Chavez, in 2008 all went up but in 2009 actually some went down again! The opposition shows a more "coherent progression where all states more or less keep increasing their vote, albeit slowly. Clearly, the quality of Chavez leadership at a given election is what determines how he scores, the opposition benefiting from a more steady progression (rounded votes, X1000).
There were a few noteworthy items worth remarking. In no particular order.
Tachira, Libertador and Miranda: the revenge of the victims. In these states where chavismo has been particularly brutal in not recognizing the victory of the opposition the people have paid Chavez back. In Tachira chavismo drops by 20,000 and the opposition grows by 40,000. Cesar Perez Vivas can look forward a rematch where this time he will win easily if they dare annul the election, with state assembly victory as a bonus point for him. In Miranda chavismo grows (a state particularly sensitive to the Misiones) but Capriles grows as much. In fact the district of Guaicaipuro (Los Teques), whose newly elected chavista mayor has been sort of appointed as the chavismo face in the state, has lost ground. Winning with 50% in 2009, Guaicaipuro goes NO this time around. In Sucre (Petare) the poor district insulted by Chavez who said it was full of golf courses, well, Ocariz led the NO to victory with 166 to 129. Even in Libertador the SI victory was very weak ensuring that Caracas at large voted massively for the NO, validating Ledezma rule clearly. Note that in Libertador (also sensitive to Misiones and public worker blackmailing) the NO gained 100 000 votes from 2008 whereas the SI had a progression of only 60 000 from last November.
Aragua and Sucre red tide. There the demise of PODEMOS implies the loss of its electoral machinery and the amazing take over of chavismo. Even Maracay who was barely lost by PJ last November is now taken over by the SI with a 112 to 105.
The dissident 2008 vote. It seems to have spread evenly betweenabstention, chavismo and opposition as we can see for Trujillo, Portuguesa and Guarico. But in Barinas chavismo returns triumphant.
Primero Justicia is punished. In the states where the maneuvers of Primero Justicia led to opposition division in 2008, this one does not improve much as chavismo advances decisively. Clearly a demoralized opposition did not have the heart to campaign hard (as I saw personally in Yaracuy). Yes, I know, I should not single out PJ for that division but in these three states at least it was at the heart of the maneuvers and lost its shirt (Bolivar, Aragua and Yaracuy).
Rosales is not the absolute kingmaker in Zulia? In an interesting twist in Zulia the SI lost by less than chavismo lost in 2008. Could it be that an eternal reelection of Rosales was not to everyone's liking? However there might be another less palatable explanation: many Rosales supporters might not have voted NO, but SI to retain their man. We certainly see that phenomenon in Nueva Esparta were the reelected governor is probably already starting to plan his third term campaign.
Merida and Lara: where the opposition had really the wrong man in 2008. In these two states the opposition improved greatly its votes from November 2008. Then in Merida clearly the defeat was due to a lousy candidate for the opposition. But in Lara it was because many in the opposition went directly to support Falcon who suddenly realizes that his ample victory was not as strong as he might have thought at first.
Is there a hidden message in all of this?
Definitely: Caucaguita. As I wrote in an earlier post analyzing the results of 2008, the popular and poor district of Caucaguita inside of Sucre municipality is still going heavily Chavez but the opposition is creeping slowly and continuously. I have updated my slide from then and you can observe it by yourselves.
The vote of the E and D sectors are not all locked up for chavimso. I truly think that last Sunday Chavez reached his last real victory. In votes and in percentage he has gone down from 2006 and in spite of all the advantage he had he could not repeat his 2006 number. Short of forcing people to vote for him at gun point I do not know what he can do to improve his latest score.
Which of course does not mean that the opposition is going to win anytime soon. If it wants to wait for the natural attrition of chavismo, this one as a few good years still ahead.
With Chavez regained power to stay in office his ability to blackmail and threaten his own supporters to follow him are renewed. That is, for the lifted term limits for all, within chavismo at least they all know that without Chavez blessing NONE of them can go for reelection. Now for the next 4 years at least they all need to outdo each other in sycophancy to be allowed to run for office again.
With the display of power abuse we have been witnessing since last summer leading to that paroxysm in January you know that free and fair elections in Venezuela is something that does not exist any more. Next election will be even worse.
Only economic collapse can maybe remove Chavez from office. And even that is not certain as we see how Mugabe and Castro tactics are kindly observed by chavismo.
My friends, we are in a military dictatorship. Oh, a "legal" one for sure, validated by some form of voting scheme, but a dictatorship nevertheless. Watch as it turns ugly.
And thus I conclude what is probably my last election coverage. There is no interest anymore for me to cover future elections as they will be even less free and much less fair than this one. The CNE as it stands is totally sold out to Chavez and it is, in my opinion, only a matter of time for the last "neutral" member of the CNE to either give up or be expelled, something that Chavez has already publicly demanded. If it is true that the voting moment by itself could be qualified as "normal", as long as international observers refuse to notice the amount of fraud that takes place BEFORE the vote, elections are simply useless. The inner logic of the political regime is to be more and more repressive and soon even the voting act by itself will not be acceptable.
I must say without false modesty that still to date my electoral evaluations are the most comprehensive ones you will see on the web, and probably even in Venezuelan papers who lamely repeat the numbers without bothering to look for what they really mean. And I do not even have access to the polls that these people read all the time... As I wrote before, the only guy that really would appreciate these posts of mine is Chavez himself who is the finest politician in Venezuela even if he is totally gross and repulsive. If anyone knows the Venezuelan electoral map and its pulse, it is him, just as Mitterrand knew in France and just as Sarkozy seems to know (they are the only examples that I can come up with of people who knew their electoral business as Chavez does, better than their entourage; Speaker Tip O'Neal was also excellent but he had no presidential timber).
I will write one or two more posts related to electoral interpretation of last Sunday and then move this blog to its next phase. Thus enjoy the graphs above because you are not going to see much of them anymore.