With 18 seats these two states represent 11% of the representatives to be elected in the new assembly. If everywhere else in the country results can be guessed more or less accurately, in these two states it is where we are more likely to find interesting and significant shifts. That is, Zulia is for the opposition: that the PSUV gains 1 or 3 seats really does not affect much the overall picture. Same story in the Llanos where the PSUV is going to win and where the opposition gains will not be enough to imperil a putative chavista majority. But in Carabobo, through gerrymandering, the opposition is not certain at all to fulfill its potential and in Aragua, the chavista bastion will still be carried by the PSUV but will be quite damaged. For the opposition to win the National Assembly it is a must that it resists the gerrymandering of Carabobo AND that it breaches the PSUV monopoly in Aragua, and for chavismo it is essential that the Aragua hegemony is preserved and that the opposition does not reach half of the Carabobo seats otherwise its majority will be too thin for comfort.
Unfortunately for chavismo the recent mistakes of the regime are expected to take a significant toll in these two states and thus if we are optimistic there, then we must be optimistic for a favorable general outcome for the opposition. Expect thus a heavy Chavez campaigning in Aragua and Carabobo in the last stretch of the campaign.
Carabobo used to be the Salas Romer fiefdom transmitted through inheritance to his son, Henrique Salas Feo. Unfortunately the kid, not a bad governor, was booted in 2004. But the arrogance prevailed and the concept of "my land" in 2008 made the opposition go divided in Carabobo and lose a lot. Salas Feo is now alone, with only two friendly town halls and an hostile legislative assembly. It seems that finally the Salas clan is getting the message, and even if the unity in Carabobo required primaries in 4 out of 5 districts, that unity was reached and all seem to be campaigning reasonably well together. It certainly helped that Proyecto Venezuela (PVZL) won most of these primaries and that Salas Feo really, really needs folks to defend him in Caracas, even if they are not from PVZL.
To help along the opposition hopes in the state, the management of the new chavista mayors have been rather lousy, in particular the one in Valencia (who won because of opposition division) and the one in Puerto Cabello who wants to be more chavista than Chavez in his segregationist tendencies. If to this you add the Pudreval disaster which ground zero is Puerto Cabello, the opposition should be able to overcome in part the obscene gerrymandering that the state was subjected to.
Because chavismo must have been quite aware of its lousy performance there as it operated in Carabobo the most obscene gerrymandering of them all, worse than Zulia or Petare! For memory I have made this little table below which shows what would be the electoral results of Carabobo with the vote count of governor in 2008, and the new districts.
|Carabobo gerrymandering 2010|
There you have it, the opposition WINS THE VOTE but LOSES THE SEAT COUNT, BY A WIDE MARGIN!!!!
How was this achieved? The state capital Valencia was cut in two parts, a small one that was integrated in district 3 while the rest was integrated with the pro Chavez districts of the southern part of the the state (Tocuyito, popular suburbs). That super district now elects 3 representatives. Chavismo gets double advantage there when we compare district 5 to district 3: 1) 284.314 inhabitants elect one representative in district 5 while district 3 has its 421.108 inhabitants represented by a single person 2) district 3 becomes an opposition ghetto where they could run a yellow dog if they wanted. In other words, over representation and ghettoization are the weapons of choice of a less and less democratic chavismo. See, the constitution demands that the electoral system is at least semi-proportional and the new districts of Carabobo allow for the party that loses the popular vote to still get a large, LARGE, majority of the representative seats..... ergo the end of proportional representation.
Compare this with what was done in Zulia in the Maracaibo redistricting and you will have all the evidence you need to decide on your own that the Venezuelan electoral commission is not only inconsistent in its methods but that it does such inconsistency on purpose to favor the regime.
So, how this will all play on September 26? I have the feeling that the gerrymandering and the abuses against Salas Feo have been too unfair and that there will be some backlash. Let's start with district 5, South Valencia-Tocuyito. In addition of the unfairness of it all, it is a poorly managed district (I visit it often). And it suffers from an increasing gridlock aggravated by the regime not only unable to complete the subway that would benefit that area, but that incomplete and stopped site occupies too many of South Valencia avenues adding to the permanent gridlock situation. Amen of power outages and crime that hit that area quite a lot. In other words, district 5 is one of the Venezuelan districts that has received more promises than everywhere else but where probably less of them have been fulfilled. Quite a record if you ask me! Thus, there I apply a 5% reduction in the chavista vote and this time I put a 5% transfer to the opposition, making this opposition leaning. In fact, I am going out on a limb and give them to PVZL outright as Saul Ortega, the PSUV candidate has been way more busy in excusing Chavez international adventures than getting the funds to finish the subway.
District 3 is a given; independent Cocchiola who was denied the Valencia town hall will now be representing the northern districts and the middle class Naguanagua and San Diego areas. District 4 should remain PSUV: rural, distant, mision dependent though its battered industrial area of Los Guayos might not be as granted as one might think.
District 2 should in normal times go to the PSUV. But in addition to the degradation of the chavista base, it also hosts the main manufacturing complex of Polar, its largest beer maker! Too many jobs and too much local income depend on that brewery who has nicely reached out to the community to the point of building a fabulous looking sports complex for its employees and their families that you can admire longingly from the ARC highway when you are stuck in one of its regular gridlocks. The threats against Polar here should backfire badly for chavismo, the more so that Chavez has been complaining a lot about the amount of beer that Venezuelans drink. I have the feeling that this area might go opposition, helped by the fact that a primary was held there where Vestalia Sampedro, a long serving PVZL member with a good trajectory, won. I am not ready to give it to her yet but I am putting a too close to call.
District 1 is rather unpredictable even though on paper it should be a shoo-in for the PSUV. The problem here is that it is constituted by two very distinct areas: the humid maritime low lands of Puerto Cabello and the dynamic agricultural high lands of Bejuma and Montalban. Puerto Cabello and Moron are a wretched area, poor, low wage skill, highly corrupt in Puerto Cabello and highly dependent of PDVSA in Moron. In addition I was told in my last visit that for some reason Puerto Cabello received a lot of refugees form many of the Venezuelan disasters (El Limon, Vargas) on the presumption that the land resembled more where they used to live and that an harbor can always find a way to hire low skilled workers. The area was, well, lumpen-ized.
On the other hand Bejuma and Montalban are agricultural districts, productive, relatively modern, which have been hesitating in becoming fully chavista as other rural areas of the country have done (the opposition managed to retain at least one of the three town halls and the chavista victories never reached 50% of the vote). This district also had primaries and the UNT candidate won with 80% of the vote. That he is not directly associated with PVZL is a plus since the Salas are rather disliked in Moron and Puerto Cabello. I am still giving this district to the PSUV but it is one of those places where surprises can happen, the more so if there a large chavista abstention, not unlikely after the Pudreval scandal (a collapsing Puerto Cabello has let a lot of people go!).
The list vote is for three seats there, two going PVZL and one PSUV
Total Carabobo: 3 PSUV, 1 too close to call, 1 independent, 5 PVZL
On the surface in Aragua the situation might seem a little bit more clearer for chavismo. But you would be fooled.
Didalco Bolivar, of MAS and then PODEMOS, held this state as the longest serving governor so far since governors have been elected by direct voting (they were appointed until 1989). Elected first in 1995, after the two MAS terms of Tablante, he stepped down in 2008 barred from reelection (he would have been reelected without any problem had he been allowed to run). It is not a surprise that this industrialized state, also home of the largest garrisons of the country who are in power courtesy of Chavez, would have gone left since 1989 and remained so. But over two decades is a long time, the more so when things have stopped improving for a while.
In 2008 Chavez decided that he would dispatch there Rafael Isea, his foreign finance minister, an insipid military who set up some of the schemes through which a new bolibourgeoisies rose fast. Isea has lived up to his full promise of insipidity and revolutionary birthright. Tales abound about his disregard for the people, such as blocking the opposite lane when the ARC is in a gridlock so that the governor caravan can pass while the hoi polloi remains in the gridlock. I know, it has happened to me last year when the main highway of the country was blocked in the Caracas direction and the official caravan decided to go against the traffic on the Valencia direction, causing an accident between a Nazional Guard and one of the poor traffic cops trying to do his best..... Let me put it this way, old, tired, sick Didalco starts looking mighty good compared to arrogant and younger Isea.
How Isea was elected is still a little bit of a mystery to me. The PODEMOS candidate, Henry Rosales, who won through a primary, favored by Didalco, only won 40% of the vote on election day. I thought he would lose but I also thought the election would be closer. Then again we had all of these images of an ISEA flushed with cash, giving it away by the handful in a state that Chavez very much wanted to get to compensate the predictable loss of next door Miranda and Carabobo.
I do not know how bad a governor Isea might actually be: after all two years is not enough to demolish a whole state, the more so that a large chunk of Didalco administration was already held by PSUV hacks. After all, it was out of necessity since Didalco was elected with more votes from the PSUV (MVR then) than PODEMOS itself (in a ratio of 2 to 1 at least in all elections since 2000). But in spite of it all the PODEMOS vote has survived and in 2008 it represented still 10.5% of the state wide votes cast, a quarter of what Rosales got. The key thus in predicting how the election will turn out in Aragua is to see how much the "traditional" PODEMOS can pull away more voters from chavismo, voters who might be more willing to go PODEMOS than, say UNT. The opposition MUD had thus no problem putting on top of the ticket Ismael Garcia of PODEMOS to try to capitalize on that PODEMOS potential.
There are other factors in Aragua at play. For example some friends working in the rural South of Aragua tell me that the misiones have almost all stopped working there. Lack of money? Isea disregard? As such even chavista officials in small areas are more conciliatory with nasty bourgeois escualidos than they were a year or tow ago. I certainly do not think it would be enough to stop the reelection of Elvis Amoroso in district 4, but for once he will need to campaign there. It is to be noted that the three Southern municipalities of Aragua are not connected directly to the state and one must go through Guarico or Miranda to drive to Maracay. That the opposition parachuted there some woman that two years ago was trying to run for El Hatillo mayor in Caracas is not going to help much either.... Still, a good showing could be an indication of a state where chavismo risks major losses due to abstention form its tired supporters.
The other three districts of Aragua could play as follow. I have decided that in Aragua chavismo should lose 10% of its vote and that the opposition there is set to progress 5% from 2008 (reminder: I am using 2008 results assuming that chavista abstention will increase and that little vote transfer will take place except in a few key areas; when this series is done I will update this somewhat). Thus district 3 still should remain chavista. Maybe not if we consider that Ismael Garcia used to be mayor of La Victoria and one should imagine that on the top of the state ticket he should have some sway in district 3. But still, I leave it PSUV, with the rank of potential surprise.
Same story in district 2 which elects 2 seats. The advantage of chavismo is simply too high to overcome there. It is the popular dormitory of Maracay, it is an industrial area, and the only thing going for the opposition is that it has Polar facilities under threat too and a decreasing industrial production. Still, for this district to go opposition we would need a swing of at least 20% and I do not see that happening this year. Having been a devoted chavita electorate for 11 years is not something that gets cured that easily.
District 1, with the state capital of Maracay is another story. It also elects 2 seats and it seems that the opposition will pick up these two ones. Why? First it includes the only areas of the state that voted more or less regularly opposition though they more or less followed Didalco. In 2008 Primero Justicia put a spirited challenge with Richard Mardo, a new comer who barely missed the town hall of Girardot. Fraud seems to have happened, made it easy in an area loaded with military facilities. So the opposition is leading the ticket there with Mardo and a charisma-less MAS/PODEMOS (?) sympathizer Hiram Gaviria who seems to run as an independent/UNT (I never got that guy clearly). The 10% rule here works well enough to give that district to the opposition and ensure that this one will also elect Ismael through the list vote (a state where 2 years ago the vote list could have given its tow seats to chavismo).
The test in Aragua for me is not district 1 which I think should go to the opposition without much trouble. The test of chavismo future is really in district 3, to evaluate the ability of chavismo to retain a seat in a district that is industrialized, with many poor yet, with a lot of political activity (infamous land invasions next to Rum Santa Teresa) and more facing a not insignificant group of educated professionals managing the industrial park, made credible through an alliance with PODEMOS. That is, the future of PODEMOS lies in this district more than anywhere else in the country. If the opposition manages to wrestle that seat on the 26 then it will be in front of an excellent overall victory.
Total Aragua: 5 PSUV, 1 UNT, 1 PODEMOS, 1 PJ
The fact of the matter is that these three votes were assumed to be granted to the PSUV but this year it seems that a couple of the seats are surprisingly competitive and one of them could go opposition. Not to be surprised, when all is said and done indigenous people in Venezuela might fare "pridewise" better but no better materially. See, the autocrat cannot accept anyone to digress, even if it is the indigenous people that he is supposed to promote.
Thus I apologize for sneaking my last forecast at the end of this post.