Zulia is actually a good bellwether state even if the result there is predictable: the opposition, or rather the UNT, will win. The only question is whether they will manage a grand slam or just a comfortable majority of the seats allotted. And that is why it is a bellwether state because the more the opposition manages to progress in a state that already belongs to them, the more it speaks of chavismo degradation in ways that we cannot see in, say, Cojedes where a 10% drop in chavismo does not necessarily mean much.
Zulia is our largest state and as such the one that sends the most representatives to the National Assembly: 3 list seats and 12 district seats. And yet it is underrepresented. The chavista constitution included a feature to over represent small states as a sort of compensation for the suppression of the Senate as of 1999. Not only this fails to protect the small states as an alliance among big states could crush them at budget time, but it makes the Zulia voter a second class citizen. For example in Yaracuy, my home state, 127,000 folks elect one representative. In Zulia they need 255,000 electors!!! That is, my Yaracuy vote is worth two votes of my colleague Juan Cristobal who would vote in Maracaibo if he were not writing his blog from the evilest Empire.
Although chavismo did not really do that on purpose in 1999 as it hoped that Zulia would be a chavista state (Arias Cardenas was governor then) it certainly serves them well now that Zulia has become an opposition bastion. The question here is how come Zulia has become so anti Chavez in spite of all the efforts that Chavez has done to woo the state? Because I have a sense that if we were to measure the amounts of cadenas, trips and Alo Presidente to Zulia, the local voter will be more than over-represented in respect to voters in other states.
Chavez never got Zulia
Even though Chavez did win in Zulia in 2006 beating Rosales who was sitting governor of Zulia, the fact of the matter is that this is as much as he will ever get from Zulia (Chavez lost the reelection referendum in 2009). The reason is very simple: Chavez does not get Zulia a state that represents in many ways all the opposite that Chavez stands for. Hence his missionary zeal in trying to pry the open the soul of the Zuliano.
You need to understand that Zulia is the Venezuelan state that is most defined in its local culture and customs, in spite of a continuous immigration since the early XX century. The other clearly identifiable state was Margarita Island but the tsunami of tourism has eroded a lot of that culture. Zulia held because Zulia was always ex-centric geographically speaking, because Maracaibo was finally united to the rest of the country only in the 60ies when a bridge crossed the lake. And because Zulianos always felt robbed as all the oil money from under their feet was wasted by Caracas. Now that Chavez has wasted more than his predecessors Zulianos are justifiably a little bit tired of been taken for granted in the name of the poor in Tucusiapon (never mind those in Cuba or Nicaragua).
That does not mean that Zulia is a separatist state (although a few more years of Chavez and it might do so). It means that Zulia has a strong regional feeling, has an entrepreneurial spirit, has a sense of self empowerment lacking almost everywhere else in the country. Thus Zulianos are fervent supporters of decentralization, private property, free trade (the Colombian border, you know), and of working your butt off if you want to get what you want from life. All things that are alien to the Chavez credo. And after all of these years Chavez still does not get it, still manages to regularly insult the Zulia soul.
That does not mean that Chavez is lack of supporters there. If you combine the poverty coming from excessive disparate income, recent immigrants not integrated yet, and all sorts of adventurers, he does manage to have a few followers (the owners of Panorama as Juan Cristobal reminds us are a perfect example of those who put money first and Zulia's interest last). To this we must add that Zulia had a story of strong trade unions who saw chavismo with positive eyes at first.
But whatever cards Chavez had earlier, he blew them up with his verbal excesses to which you can add the plague of the Colombian guerrilla at home in many areas of Zulia. To protect them the regime had to deliberately weaken the local security forces and thus the overall crime rate of Zulia is staggering. That chavismo in general dislikes/hates Zulia was proven recently when PDVSA refused to recognize the oil slick in Maracaibo's lake. It is an established fact that the lake bottom is a maze of old pipes and that there were specialized companies that were supposed to do regular supervision and repair. But PDVSA always short of cash to support populist programs, or Cuba, had no problem in dropping these contractors.
The litany of chavismo neglect is endless. The surprise here is that chavismo is surprised at the negative reactions of the locals. So they did what they do better: in spite of an already unfavorable electoral law for Zulia's interest, they went ahead and gerrymandered the whole state.
This was really awesome becasue Zulia had to integrate 3 of its list representatives. So the whole of Zulia districts were affected. What chavismo liked the most was the possibility of altering Maracaibo itself, a district electing as a block 4 opposition seats. With the gerrymandering Maracaibo now sends 5 representatives but chavismo hopes to get two. And the manipulation also carried to the other districts: now Zulia goes from 6 districts to 12. In the table below I have used the data from the governor vote in 2008 as they would apply to today's new districts situation (note: at the end of the table I added the list vote for the legislative council where the difference is less; this is due to many small opposition parties trying their luck; thus that list vote is more of an UNT-PSUV contest and sustains my arguments in a way). Also, for clarity and later discussions I have divided Zulia in three: the Maracaibo metro area which consists of Maracaibo and San Francisco, the "Perija" area which are all the hinterlands of Maracaibo to which I added a little bit unfairly the Catatumbo and Sur del Lago; and the Costa Oriental del Lago a.k.a COL.
|The effects of gerrymandering in Zulia|
What do we see:
- Gerrymandering effect: Maracaibo Metro now could get three seats for the PSUV
- The opposition margin of victories, in particular in Maracaibo, are way higher than the chavismo margin of victory
- But there is a tidbit of good news for the opposition: a mere shift of 5% loss in the chavista vote is enough for PSUV to lose districts 8, 9 and 10, while making 1 and 4 very vulnerable. As it is often the case, an impolitic application of gerrymandering for short term gains can be totally counter productive as the PSUV risks taking only a single seat!
Notes: the San Francisco new mayor is a fanatical chavista and anointed as the lone valid spokesperson for Zulia for Chavez. He has been as confrontational as possible, going as far as expropriating graveyards. Which did not stop him from displaying a much improved life style since he became mayor. In contrast Rosales wife who remained in Zulia manages to project a reasonable life style and campaigns everywhere. The San Francico seat, district 9, at a mere 0.9% chavista advantage should not be hard for the opposition to gain.
Sinamaica to the Catatumbo. This is a much suffering area. Infested with crime, FARC, drug trafficking, land invasion, kidnapping industry, what was once one of the granaries of Venezuela has dropped a lot.
The North is drier and indigenous (Guajiros), and favoring of Chavez who allegedly supported native American rights. But that is starting to fade as even for the natives it is obvious that the regime loves the FARC much more than what it loves them.. The more so with the constant opening and closing of the Colombian border as the Guajiros have relatives on each side. An upset victory in district 3 is not impossible. Still, I leave it PSUV for now.
District 1 is the Machiques granary, a land of long time conflicts between Native Americans, abusive ranchers and impoverished farm hands. And yet chavismo won by only 12%. As for district 3, the FARC and crime could push this district into opposition hands. In fact I am putting it as PSUV leaning only, the more so that the opposition had the good idea to hold a primary there, always a motivational factor.
I do not see why district 2 and 12 should change hands. If anything wet Sur del Lago has been further affected by incessant land invasions and destruction of farms. I expect district 12 to vote with at least a ten points margin for the opposition.
COL. The picture here should be very favorable for the opposition. Already after the 2003 strike of DVSA the economic consequences had pushed Lagunillas (district 11) in the hands of the opposition. District 10 was more sympathetic to chavismo but the expropriation of all the PDVSA contractors because Chavez refused to pay them their due has created a dramatic economic crisis in the region where plenty of chavistas are now without a job, and without receiving their worker rights compensation after being fired. Long gone is the time where enthusiastic red shirted workers took over the contractors boats, most of them today broken down, at anchor, useless. note: this is the only area where the PPT could have a spoiler role and jeopardize and eventaul AD win for the opposition. I do not see it right now but I reserve my right to change my prediction for district 10.
The list vote. No surprise there, the opposition should get two out of three.
Total Zulia: 2 PSUV, 1 leaning PSUV, 1 leaning opposition, 6 UNT, 1 PJ, 1 AD, 1 Copei, 2 other