In previous installments of this series we have discussed the following electoral problems the Venezuelan political opposition faces and in which are ways they can be dealt with:
The message: simple and short, no outrageous promises, the main point being to exert control over Chavez projects so those become more efficient; control somewhat rampant corruption and reverse some unpopular measures such as the radio closures, something that can be done with a law to reform CONATEL, just to give an example.
The electoral system: it is stacked in favor of Chavez but we must still run the gauntlet. After all the other option is uprising and as long as that uprising does not start from Catia and23 de Enero neighborhoods it will not succeed. True, it might just be a question of time but do we really want that bloodbath in addition to the weekly crime toll passing the Iraq numbers? The only thing we can do is to present good candidates and fill up the polling stations, ALL of them, with as many eyewitnesses we can get away with it.
And thus the third part of this series, how to file good candidates, and unique ones at that!
The obligation for unity
Although it is becoming tiring to repeat this, it must be done: the lack of unity among the opposition cost it the following last November (directly or indirectly, it does not matter)
- Bolivar state governor, one of the major states and a crucial one considering all the trade union battles taking place today there
- The mayors of at least three major cities: Valencia, Maracay, and Cumana
- Several other cities including the state capital of San Felipe
- The legislative assembly of the states of Carabobo and to a lesser extent Tachira and Bolivar
- The passing of some states to near or absolute chavista control, in particular Yaracuy where not a single town-hall could be saved.
The question I submit to you is: would have Chavez cruised so easily through his February referendum and all the totalitarian laws passed this year if all of these entities were today in the hands of the opposition?
We are ONLY starting to pay the price today for this lack of unity due to personal ambition and local vendettas, with two main culprits in my book, Primero Justicia and Proyecto Venezuela, though AD and UNT deserve quite a few stones too.
But it is not the time to allocate blame, not even to ask for apologies: all, from PODEMOS to minor groups on the right must pull together and find a way to avoid these internal battles. UNITY IS THE ONLY WAY WE CAN HAVE A CHANCE AT TAKING BACK THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY AND START REVERSING SOME OF THE DAMAGE TO THE COUNTRY MADE BY CHAVISMO. If anyone within the opposition does not understand that then s/he is stupid or sold out to Chavez. No way around.
How to manage the unity of the opposition?
I have already written extensively around that but as Rafael Poleo if found of quoting Gide, everything has already been said but since no one pays attention it needs to be repeated over and over.
They are many, ideological ones, past dalliances that come to haunt the different political actors, personal ambitions and what not. In normal times these are impossible to solve, but these are not normal time and for once it is fair to ask the prima donne to lower their ego at least for one single election.
The reality at ground zero
Political parties are a necessary evil. They are the only ones that can really organize the witness at the voting stations and who can sort of manage to campaign in chavista strongholds. If you are not member or sympathizer of a political party please share with us the last time you were campaigning in La Baldosera of Yaracuy or when you stayed until 3 AM waiting for the last vote to be counted in some polling center at Gramoven?
True, civil society can bring a substantial help but in all fairness we cannot expect the Student Movement and Sumate to solve all of our electoral problems. They working together with political parties and assorted ONG and civic group are the answer and all should drop their ego for a few months. There will always be plenty of time to settle accounts after the election.
Thus any system that does not ensure that all will be heard and that all will be granted at least a side chair will fail. That is why I think a wholesale primary is a sure way to sink the project: the sore losers will lose any motivation to help the winners. We are not in the US where the primary loser of yesterday has an excellent chance to become the primary winner of tomorrow. See McCain as the most recent example..... That is why primaries work in the US but why they are in-existent most places where the best we can hope is fair internal election for those who run the smoke filled room. Even in Venezuela where primaries have been tried on different guises we can observe a very mixed result at best. And the recent case of Aragua last year show us clearly that a primary, no matter how well Sumate organized it, is far from guaranteeing the necessary popular enthusiasm required to win the final vote.
But on the other hand we certainly cannot go back to a secret nomination horse trading process: the civil society is not willing anymore to accept it. Heck, even the PSUV where we know that no one gets the nod unless Chavez approves it still manages to make a farce of primary elections with the occasional surprise as the victory of Falcon in Lara in 2008. The "primary feeling" is strong among too many Venezuelans, even chavistas. We are going that way but we are not there yet, wishful thinking is just not going to cut it.
How can we thus tie these loose ends of reality and make it work?
PODEMOS as an example of the problem
I think we can illustrate the general problem examining the case of PODEMOS, stern ally of Chavez until RCTV was taken over. Then slowly but surely PODEMOS started leaving chavismo until finding themselves as a new opposition in December 2007.
Many people, including this blogger, have had a very hard time to accept PODEMOS, to stomach Ismael Garcia, one of the most repulsive Chavez supporters. And yet we must all recognize that singlehandedly he has done a lot to counter Chavez (with a couple of his colleagues and other tranfuges of chavismo). His atonement and his willingness to put up with abuse at the Nazional Assembly will be told some day a political epic. Can we do without Ismael in the next National Assembly? Can we do without his intimate knowledge of the adversary weaknesses that can be well exploited the day Chavez loses the majority?
It is not that Ismael is essential, but together with Molina and Pastora they are among the few people able to campaign in the barrios where they have a chance to be heard. Any nomination process that does not ensure that these three do not return for the National Assembly will increase the opposition handicap.
There are 167 representatives, at least 3 per state. Thus the majority the opposition needs to get to be able to do anything is technically 84 seats. Let's take the 86 number to feel more comfortable about any potential of the new assembly. Thus we have 86 seats to spread around, seats that can be won with a normal turnout, a good campaign and the continuous degradation of the regime unable to solve any problem for quite a while (if ever, but that is another story). Any seat won above 86 is an added bonus, a lucky gain. We cannot worry about the nomination of these seats. The way candidates for these seats are nominated is of little importance. Let's put them on a primary system.
My proposal is that of these 86, a number between 23 to 30 should be "assigned" by a general agreement between political parties and the civil society main players (students? university deans? civil rights groups?). Those who receive the nod for those safe seats would be a mix of major political tenors and a few noted figures of the civil society, figures whose expertise and stamina is required in the next assembly. Why that 23 number? There are 23 states plus Caracas, thus 24 "electoral lists" with at least one safe seat on it except in some chavista stronghold like Amazonas or Cojedes.
What are the advantages of this list? First, they do not have to waste time, resources and energy to run for a primary. Second, they can be nominated as early as December. Third they can start running while the opposition keeps hammering the nomination process for the second list of seats, raising funds, working on a plank, whatever. The thing is that there would be two dozen official voices of the opposition replying to Chavez regularly as he is already campaigning hard and needs some one in front A.S.A.P.
There is an additional problem with organizing a long primary system: the CNE is yet to be confirmed as two of its 5 members board are currently being replaced. Any gerrymandering announcement will have to wait for whenever the CNE decides it. The opposition is paralyzed while Chavez campaign since all of his candidates will depend on him anyway, no matter how late the CNE redraws the political districts.
Thus the more benefit to nominate quickly a list of chosen folks while making clear that all the other candidates (about 130) will be named through some form of primary of poll. This way the opposition discussion table could focus and what needs to be decided by December, no matter what:
1) a methodology to establish primaries, a method easily adaptable to any gerrymandering the CNE does.
2) register as soon as possible eventual primary candidates so a preliminary campaign might allow to wean some the field
3) work with Sumate and ESDATA and such folks to decide which are the states where primaries are realistic and where primaries are an unnecessary luxury
You get the drift, it is really not that difficult.
In a next post I will provide examples on how these problems can be solved.