Thursday, October 08, 2009

The 2010 Venezuelan votes: the messages

Before starting an electoral contest usually political parties try to put together a message to attract voters. With at least two general elections coming next year, this should not be the exception in Venezuela. In fact, chavismo has already started campaigning hard even though there is not a single candidate named yet. But it does not matter, they all ride on Chavez's coat tails anyway and since it has sort of worked for the last ten years, why not not repeat the formula? If people have been willing to vote for zillions of promises and very few achievements chavismo has all the right to think that it will work once again. They know very well the cattle they herd ("conocen su ganado" as we say in Venezuela).

Tonight we had yet another cadena illustrating this point, following already the Sunday cadena of nearly 6 hours. Brace yourself, we are in for a cadena almost every day for the next few months. Both forced nation wide broadcast had only one objective: put up a show to try to cover up what has become an obvious failure: the famous Mision Barrio Adentro which has proven to be unsustainable. What Chavez is doing is simply promise that it will all be fixed, by 2019 there will not be any poor left in Venezuela (I kid you not) and watch out, we are bringing back the Cubans; without of course bothering to explain how come the Cubans left and why were they not replaced with Venezuelan medics. But when you run inconceivable populist campaigns you do not pay attention to the details.

Opposition delays

If chavismo is right and ready, not bothering with subtleties whatsoever, the opposition is yet to emit a peep-squeek of an electoral offer. And yet, paradoxically obtaining an electoral message for the opposition should be the simplest of matters and yet it seems that it is slowing down everything. Why?

First the opposition has placed itself in front of an unnecessary dilemma. Apparently the clearly expressed wishes of unity from the electorate are interpreted by politicians as the need to create an united government plank, thus missing totally the whole point of the coming elections.

Second, the wishes to nitpick everything and the belief that the election is all but won make a few leaders among the opposition already think about the next presidential election.

As far as I am concerned, the elections are already lost unless by late December the political opposition has come up with a sensible plan and at least a strategy to nominate unity candidates. And yet, Chavez will have already been campaigning for three months and the opposition nothing yet, making it a much harder uphill battle than what it should have been. I let you imagine the polls by January first...

A simple platform

There is no reason why we should be at such dire point so early in the campaign. So I am going to help the opposition out, knowing full well that no one in the leadership will read it and that even if they were to read it their arrogance will blind them anyway. But I have to do my duty. Heck! I might even translate this and start my own Spanish language blog....

Let's start by the basics: what are we electing. Let's forget about the municipal council elections, the message is mostly local and the real problem there is a way to generate unity candidates that will run on local issues platform. So, we just need to focus on the message for the Nazional Assembly election.

The constitution of Venezuela is quite clear, the national Assembly is not the one that runs the country. It proposes laws that will hep the executive run the country, it will receive law proposals from the executive to examine and it will exert control functions on how the executive spends tax money. There are other items but for an election purpose those are the ones that count, there is no need to even bother about the other ones except perhaps hinting at some constitutional reform to guarantee for example a better decentralization of the country.

In other words the message should be quite clear:
We are going to let Chavez run the country as you wished for in 2006,
but we are going to control the government,
making sure that the monies reach the social services
and not the pocket of the corrupt governmental agents.

This is enough of a message, all the rest risks to be fanciful distraction that could even be dangerous to maintain opposition unity. For example, how can you bridge the divergence between left PODEMOS and more right wing groups that oppose, say, barrio adentro if you try to include in your platform new rules for barrio adentro? It is impossible! How can you bridge the judicial differences between AD and PJ if you want to include ways to nominate judges in the platform?

How to design the platform

In short the opposition needs to bother only about an electoral plank of things that can be done of common agreement among ALL parties to control the regime, restore democracy and decentralize the country, forcing chavista local officials to work on their own without the protection of Chavez. All the rest not only is superfluous but I would go as far as proposing that it should be left at the free conscience of each political party. For example if PODEMOS wishes to negotiate different social programs with chavismo because together they represent a majority of seats, then so be it, PODEMOS should be allowed to do so as long as they respect the basic agreement. If PODEMOS and AD decide to join PSUV to reorganize the high court, so be it, PJ should just seat on the side realizing that it can only be an improvement from he present TSJ.

In other words the less conditions the platform has, the better the message can pass, the more solid the unity will be. Starting to discuss rebuilding the country and other such nincompooperies is not only counterproductive but stupid: as long as Chavez is in Miraflores the only thing you can hope is to control him better, force him to waste less and wait for 2012 and beat him at elections. Let's not forget that Chavez will have important weapons such as new constitutional amendments, and even the power to dissolve the new Assembly if necessary by creating a crisis.

Now, how difficult can it be for the opposition to come up with a simple, short, clear, limited proposal? This is what I would propose in no particular order:

- exert the financial control of the National Assembly to limit corruption.

- stop credits for foreign countries unless duly consulted with the National Assembly. This include the ALBA. Venezuelan money should be spent first on Venezuela.

- reestablish the constitutional quota of oil money that go directly to the local governments.

- vote laws to return responsibilities to local officials along with more funds, creating a system that allows for all states to be treated as equal.

- modify laws that have diminished the freedom of the people, in particular those that bring censorship, that bring unjust judicial proceedings, etc....

- force the government to spend more on jails, on police, etc., returning part of the security apparatus to the governors who wish to exert their responsibility there.

- increase democracy and popular participation:

$$ reformulate the heath system plan and pension system to force the government to fulfill its promises yet to be accomplished (even if Chavez votes in a hurry some law to that effect you can claim that as a success). Offer for example that local referenda will decide whether the people want their governor to manage the local hospitals instead of the central government.

$$ offer local referenda as to whether people want their mayors/governors to manage their public schools instead of the central government.

$ guarantee constitutional provisions to name judges

$ organize consejos comunales to fight corruption

- defend small and medium property, giving property rights to everyone in "ranchos". Include those who got only "permits" from Chavez land seizures (there will always be time to compensate folks later).

- guarantee freedom of association and work by voting laws that limit governmental abuse in trade union elections.

- give freedom to individual opposition parties to negotiate with the government items that are not included in the platform, as long as they respect that electoral platform

And what SHOULD not be included:

- mention of controlling the army (way to early and too difficult to do considering how corrupt the army has become).

- reversing any social program: they are all accepted, we are just going to make sure they work the way they should work, you approved them in 2006.

- constitutional amendments: people are sick of voting. Besides the constitution is so sick that it is way past amending. Simply state that you are willing to work with Chavez from the National Assembly but if it does not work out you reserve your options, such as constituent assembly.

In other words, an eventual victory of the opposition WILL generate conflict with Chavez. Announcing how the opposition would deal with such conflict is only a sign of weakness.

Conclusion

There! Was that so difficult? Serious people can put up together a simple program as the one described above in a matter of weeks, not even a month. It should fit in at most a dozen pages so it can be printed cheaply and distributed around. The language should be simple and directed to to sectors E and D (the chavista electoral bulk) since the other sectors already vote in their majority against Chavez. It could even take the gamble to add point blank as an introduction "that since we do not know how much money is left in the public coffers we abstain to offer material promises that we could not fulfill, and besides, that is the role of the government, not of the Assembly: we just make sure that Chavez fulfill his promises"

-The end-

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