You cannot have an election and win or lose it and not suffer or benefit of its consequences. In a strange paradox this Venezuelan election might be a unique example on how all will suffer from its consequences, victors and losers alike. To make my point clear I will start first by the moral or psychological meaning of that election. And at the end I will try to speculate on what this election means on more mundane matters, such as what the opposition is supposed to do.
The new Venezuelan political map
Forget about which states went red or blue or white or green this time around, this is truly inconsequential. This election was defined mainly by the nature of the electoral campaign which, I need to remind the reader, has been lasting since last summer. This has been the most brutal campaign that we have seen in Venezuela history. The abuses and vituperations of Chavez during the campaign have been there for all to see. As a consequence we have to accept the fact that the 54% of the population have condoned, accepted, approved of a campaigning style, and a governing style, which clearly is meant to be a “us against them” and thus “we must destroy them before they destroy us”.
Besides the obvious conclusion that democracy is dead in Venezuela what we have now is a rogue regime which is going to be diligently pursuing the ultimate elimination of its political opposition. As such we must accept, no matter how hard this might be conceive, that the 54% of people who voted for Chavez can be divided into two groups: a group that seeks the destruction of any option that is not the one they support and another group that might or might not agree with the method but who is decided to turned its gaze elsewhere as long as they are not reached by the splatter. Or if you prefer it more crudely, they do not care that, say, blogger Duquenal is dragged out of his home as long as their public sector job or their little social grant is not jeopardized. True, once Chavez runs out of money and stops providing as he ahs been doing they might decide to oppose him, but they will never oppose him actively on ethical or moral principles when their neighbor is dragged out, or expropriated, or forced to leave the country, or fired from a governmental job for expressing his or her opinion in private. Chavez has succeeded brilliantly at least in one thing: he has neatly split Venezuela in two.
Why the need to break apart the country? Because this is about the only way to have a real chance to remain in power until he dies. Why does he need to remain in power until he dies? Because his ego is immense, but more importantly because he knows that if one day a real judicial system returns to Venezuela he will finish his days in jail.
Those who disagree or do not understand this are absolutely unable to understand what is going today in Venezuela, what is really at stake, not only for Venezuela but for the world. For the world because regimes like Venezuela cannot fail to fall into supporting subversion, conspiracy, drug trafficking, slavery and what not. Enough evidence of this is already being collected around and making its way slowly but surely through the proper channels. Or has anyone forgotten about the Miami Maletagate? That Venezuela has become under Chavez a major drug transit point? Is it not evidence that Venezuela moral decrepitude is spilling all over?
Any political action that is undertaken ignoring what I have written above is simply destined to failure. Chavismo does not play by the rules of civilized world, it plays by the rules of Mafia sponsored street gangs. That does not mean we must treat him with the same “rules”, but it means that nice conventional rules of civilization do not work against him, like they did not work against Hitler, Mussolini, Peron, Mugabe, etc…
Why was the election won/lost?
Very simple: Chavez and his people went with all they had, set a trap on a financially broke opposition who helped along by acting like a deer looking at a car lights while a brave student movement tried to have the deer jump in the ditch. As such the improvement in vote counts for the opposition is NOTHING to cheer about, it only means that there is a potential to beat Chavez someday if the right strategy comes into place. But as one can write that Chavez probably will never again obtain 6 million votes in a free and fair election, one can also write that with its current strategy the opposition will not be able to grow further. The students did all what they could. Now, they need to go back to their books, and prepare themselves to assume power in a decade or so of they keep playing their cards right. The next decade is for Chavez unless finally the political opposition comes up with a way to ditch him.
Students in other countries have been able to create miracles (Serbia, even Ukraine) but they failed in other (Azerbaijan for example). The reason is very simple; a student movement has a chance to triumph in a country that is culturally ready to understand their message of freedom and personal responsibility nurtured by hope for a better future. Venezuela as the 54% result tells us is a country not interested in personal freedom but in charismatic leaders and what they have to give away.
A troubling observation is that the opposition failed in one crucial item, in reminding people that if the NO vote won Chavez would remain for still four more years. It seems that too many SI voters actually believed the Chavez lies that the revolution would be over, that the Barrio Adentro modules would be closed as soon as the NO was declared the winner. If on one thing as simple as elaborating a message upon this chavista lie failed, I personally fail to see how they will tackle bigger lies of Chavez.
Why no one wins?
The opposition obviously lost and lost big. It does not matter that it gained in votes: the first polls of December were giving the opposition 10% ahead. In one and a half month of campaign Chavez reversed these polls. This is almost unheard of.
Then we must also acknowledge that it was in the cards last November when it came brashly victory when the popular vote had gone for Chavez. True, symbolically the victory was quite good, but it was far from a smashing defeat to Chavez. He knew it very well and his amendment move was to make sure that the symbolically defeat of November 2008 would be forgotten or blamed elsewhere.
But Chavez is no big winner either. He might have won but he did not recover his 2006 number even though this was a flash presidential election in all but name, even if he threw the baby, the tub, the water the soap and even the lotion. He is wearing out, no matter what the opposition does and there is nothing he can do about it because it is called “too many years in office” and no democratic regime can survive this exhaustion unless it crosses the line toward authoritarianism. So right now he looks like a winner but some oil workers just went on strike this week, and other strikes are promised elsewhere. No grace period this time around.
But what is worse for Chavez is he risks to take this victory as a mandate of sorts and thus he will feel free to go further and thus commit bigger mistakes. His reelection in 2012 is yet to be ensured even though he has already started his campaign for it. In fact, it is quite possible that his inability to manage the coming crisis could create him big problem with his own base as early as the end of 2009.
What is chavismo going to do?
Now? Whatever Chavez says. By allowing Chavez to run again in 2012 they have castrated themselves. Now, more than ever, the magic finger of Chavez will decide who figures and who does not. People like Henri Falcon must have felt a cold chill on their neck when the result was announced. We in the opposition are already used to see Chavez as a dictator, now chavismo is going to learn. Until now they thought that it was a transitory period while the revolution triumphed. Now that it is installed they are going to find out that there was nothing transitory about it.
What can the opposition do, or rather, should do?
Since this is going to be in part the type of things that will be discussed in the “new look” VN&V I am going only to give a brief summary of what I think it should do. Details as weeks go by.
Although since Sunday I have not bought a paper or put on TV talk shows I still did cross them as I surfed for mindless entertainment (reruns of Two and Half Men were particularly welcome this week). One night there was that journalist in Globovision saying, I kid you not, that the “opposition is sooo democratic”. Well, it is not. True, it is way more democratic than chavismo, no comparison, but it is far from being an example of democracy and that is costing them a lot. For example no political party has held a real serious internal election where tendencies clearly clashed and where the new “buró politico” is a fair compromise of the results. In 2008 although I agreed that primaries were not the panacea, the opposition was unable to come to terms with it and do them promptly in problem states such as Bolivar. I bet you that if primaries had been held in Merida, Tachira and Bolivar in September we would have carried the three states and picked up an assembly majority in Tachira. Maybe it would have been good enough a victory that Chavez might not have dared to push his amendment.
Thus the first thing for the opposition is to establish clearly its democratic nature so that people can compare it clearly to the undemocratic nature of the chavista side. Maybe enough will finally get the point and start voting against Chavez. How to do that? Very simple, come up NOW, TODAY, with a democratic system to nominate all the candidates to the municipal elections later this year. Even doing that fast and well will ensure at best a third of the seats at stake, courtesy of the unfair electoral system, but if the opposition does not do that fast, it might even fail to gain the majority in the Sucre district of Miranda where the NO did handsomely well last Sunday.
The second thing to start working now is to create a collective leadership formed by the elected officials of last November. They need to stick together to resist better the onslaught that Chavez is sending their way. And they are the natural spokespeople of the opposition: they are elected, for God’s sake! Forget about all the minor players: the ones that count, the only ones that should matter are the governors and mayors elected. This of course goes along creating a unitary government base in order to present something better than “No es No”.
And while all of this is going on the opposition MUST also create a better electoral machinery to make sure that at least chavismo does not abuse of its power at voting time. It is amazing the stories we have been hearing this week, how people’s vote was not what they voted for (printed SI when they voted NO), how people were carted to voting centers, how the military threatened anyone who complained about the abuses of the voting officers, how some were even briefly detained because they refused to back down in their just protest, the number of centers with 100% SI, etc… Even if only 10% of the voting stations are not monitored by the opposition that is enough cheating possibility for chavismo to swing a national close vote. The opposition must find ways to be everywhere…
Only after all of this done can the opposition consider fighting for parliament or president. Before that it is simply a waste of time and people like me as of now will start considering staying home as a valid electoral choice. People like me are starting to get tired of hearing pre electoral newscast that the opposition has monitors everywhere just to learn that my friend was left alone at El Junquito to fend for herself against a bully military violating rules.
And to en on a personal note: I did call to a number sent to me to offer material help to voting stations attendant. I offered to buy a cell phone and a 100 BS call card. Well, I am still waiting for the return phone call….. I am not upset about the student who kindly attended my call. But she was clearly overwhelmed and alone. She probably simply did not have the material time to link me to a Yaracuy opposition witness. It was not her fault, it was the fault of the local Yaracuy politicians who ruined the opposition chances here for at least a decade. Maybe I should switch my registration to Valencia or even Caracas for next election where I can do some good.