We danced until the night became a brand new day
Two lovers playing scenes from some romantic play
September morning still can make me feel that way
Thinking about what will happen the day after the 26-S vote I remembered that old song which was not very good but that somehow was successful enough to sit in a corner of my memory. Serendipity being what it is, it comes in handy to illustrate how the love affair of Venezuela with Chavez might crumbling. I do not know whether 26-S will be the final break up but one thing is certain, whatever the result is we will have crossed an inflection point, as important at least as the one we crossed on August 15 2004.
Before we visit the possible post electoral scenarios once again it is essentially to repeat again and again that the regime is a bunch of thugs who know perfectly well that if justice returns to this country it will start by sending quite a few of them to the slammer. And for the lucky ones to remove their dust covers in their Cuban lodgings as they will spend quite a significant amount of the rest of their lives there. If Chavez has been successful at one thing is having created a group of corrupt folks that are now aware that the only way they can enjoy their ill acquired goods is for Chavez to remain in power 'til kingdom comes. In particular for the Rafael Ramirez, Cilia Flores, Diosdado Cabello and a few other who besides financial corruption can easily be accused of Human Rights violations. Failure to understand that, or at least accept this crude fact of life will not allow you to understand what is coming in Venezuela.
This being said, let's move on to our possible scenarios.
The first thing to be aware is that whatever happens, it happens and change will come. Even a meager 30 seats won by the opposition will create enough problems at the Nazional Assembly for Chavez. The half a dozen that were the home-grown chavismo opposition were so annoying that one had to be put in house arrest and another one had to had her microphone cut off all the time, after copious insults from Cilia Flores. Imagine 30 motivated, trained opposition.... chavismo in the last 5 years has lost whatever democratic reflexes it may have ever carried, while developing a serious case of paranoia. It is thus obvious that even 30 seats only for the opposition will sooner or later be enough to create a political crisis as the country keeps collapsing.
That is why I consider 26-s as an inflection point: either chavismo becomes outright repressive or its unraveling will start. The "status quo" inherited from the 2004 referendum will be over.
This includes two sub scenarios: chavismo wins outright with a 2/3 majority or chavismo wins by a few seats only, but with more votes cast than the opposition, even if only 1 more vote. The only difference here will be the pacing of events. With a 2/3 majority chavismo will move fast, but with even a single seat majority chavismo will advance, albeit slowly. Remember that the 2000-2005 assembly ended with a bare 2-3 seats majority for chavismo and yet many of the repressive laws that chavismo started making ere voted then (Ley RESORTE for one).
In either case the final outcome wished for by chavismo is the final neutering of the opposition before 2012. This will be reached by depriving it from any resources. Polar will be taken over, along any significant opposition industrial base. Only shopkeepers will be allowed to survive, along multinational companies. The "poder comunal" will be established as a way to bankrupt opposition town halls and governors. Globovision will likely be closed because the regime will have the excuse of having won the election questioning Globovision. At the very least open broadcast of Globovision in Caracas and Valencia will be suspended, relegating it to cable TV only, as a previous step for its final demise as they did for RCTV.
What is important to keep in mind is that the regime scared in 2007 and 2008, not really comforted in 2009 will not take anymore chances in the future.
We have again two sub scenarios that result pretty much in the same outcome.
The first case is chavismo winning the Assembly but losing the popular vote by at least a couple of points. That would be terrible in a way as its international legitimacy will be destroyed as no democracy accepts that a "minority" government reaches power without the consent of the country. Let's take as example the extreme case of the US in 2000. George Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 but the institutions and political tradition of the US of A gave him the blessing to rule anyway, without any serious questioning until he got an outright clear popular victory in 2004. Let's not forget that in 2000 he might have lost the popular vote but his party retained Congress so there was a certain legitimacy there, like it or not. As such Democrats grudgingly played the game and the leadership of the US in the world was respected.
There is no such a thing in Venezuela today as the institutions are mere agents of the regime (the CNE president Tibisay Lucena is derogatorily called "minister for elections") . And years of insulting foreign countries will come back to haunt Chavez as few will want to deal with him until the Venezuelan political situation is clarified.
Thus for all of his bravado Chavez will be compelled to improve his "minority" status, to gain time until he finds his "final" solution to the problem. He can try a referendum like in 2009. In 2008 he had lost a majority of the popular vote though he still got more votes than the organized opposition. Winning such a referendum will legitimize his ill acquired Assembly "majority".
Another option is either reconciliation with the PPT or buying out an opposition splinter group. I think that will depend on how many seats the PPT manages to get. I am forecasting 4 at best but who knows, maybe they could climb up to 6. Thus we enter our second case, coalition rule that would be forced by either chavismo failing to win an outright majority by a seat or two, or winning narrowly but losing the popular vote significantly. The PPT who in the past was kicked out by Chavez but crawled back, can certainly do this a second time around. After all, the only thing that Henry Falcon wants is to be left alone to rule Lara and giving him a year of peace and quiet might not be too difficult for Chavez as he has so many problems elsewhere. And the PPT will have to do what Henry Falcon says on that respect.
Whatever case it s we must understand that it would be a matter for Chavez of gaining time, any "coalition" would be insincere, as Chavez will wait for any excuse or any large oil price increase to ditch it. But the end result would be negative because the polarization would worsen and we would get a step closer to civil war.
I am dealing with this scenario ahead of the one with a limited opposition victory because it is short. In such scenario the opposition wins with 15 seats or more and maybe more than a 10% vote margin. It is not impossible but improbable I am afraid. Not that it would speed the demise of Chavez, a necessary factor if we want to start the recovery of the country, but at least it would be a clear sign of Chavez decline with psychological impacts among those following him, including the crooks. When it is clear that you need to do a lot of repression, that you need to spill a few buckets of blood to retain power, many do not have the stomach for it: negotiations start, sacrificing Chavez and maybe a half dozen of figure heads to preserve the hundred of corrupt ones. I do not have much trouble with that as the deal will still be cheaper than a civil war. It is called realpolitik and I need to remind folks that denazification in Germany did not mean that thousands of Nazis were passed by the fire-squad. Even though more should have suffered that fate than those who actually did.
What could Chavez do? Very little. A 10% margin of victory precludes a referendum as an escape route. So he bites the bullet, suspends the march toward communism, tries to rule positively for a couple of years, and if he is reelected in 2012 then it all starts over again. Or he could try the options described next, but no earlier than mid 2011.
It is the more likely scenario and in a way the more complex: the opposition gains strength but chavismo retains enough muscle to keep the fight going. In this scenario the opposition gains less than 15 seats majority and of course wins the popular vote but chavismo retains at the very least 45% of the popular vote. Thus the solid block of chavismo is facing the opposition constellation, with all the perils that it implies.
A lot of options are open there, depending on how long the opposition manages to maintain a united front and how fast the economy degrades. Note: I rule out an improvement in the economy with the opposition winning as the private sector is too weakened to offer much of a help and Chavez will fight for every penny he can manage to get and send to Cuba. In other words neither side will be able to use an unlikely economic recovery to its benefit, the only thing at play here is how the oil income is spent.
Let's assume that Chavez is willing to assume the constitutional game at least up to a point.
He has one weapon of difficult use: if the Assembly votes down his vice-president more than once in a year he can dissolve the Assembly and call for new election. Possible only if he has more money than what he has now, that is, the oil barrel at 90 USD at the very least and for a few months.
He can try the constitutional assembly but that could backfire really, really bad as the opposition could win it with an even larger margin.
He can try a referendum but that still would not give him a majority back.
He can veto whatever he wants but he would clearly appear as the sour loser and pay the price.
He can try to buy out a splinter faction of the opposition. But I see it remote because 1) he does not have the required cash and 2) any faction willing to split away would require guarantees because after 11 years of wilderness and chavista mistreatment they will charge him full price, political and financial.
Or he could go and make an outright military coup.
What he probably would do is to try open confrontation with the Assembly and see what happens. For that he has a good weapon: the lame duck assembly lasting from September 27 until Christmas can vote quite a few laws that will block the first few months of the incoming assembly too busy to untie the tangle. The amount of damage he can do there is quite extensive, from voting next year budget to create the "communal" state and void the power of the Assembly and local elected officials.
The reply of the opposition might be a referendum to revoke all the laws voted by the lame duck assembly. True, it can win the referendum but it can also lose it and seal its fate.
The way to go will be a slow but methodical counter attack including making cadenas by the head of the new Assembly. That is the opposition will have the weapon it had lacked for all these years: a right to reply to all of Chavez communicational abuses. Add this to the power of the purse and quickly Chavez will wither. It will be all a matter of political skills from each side, with he great skill of Chavez fading fast and the the opposition without a clear leadership to speed up that decline.
Whatever it is, with that scenario we can expect strong to violent confrontation for at least a couple of semester until one side starts to give in, probably the Chavez side as the economy fails to recover and the audits of the Assembly start revealing the corruption and incompetence.
All in all my own gut feeling reaction is that if the opposition puts a strong stand from the start chavismo will either make its coup and speed up its final ending in a blood bath, or chavismo unravels faster than expected and chavistas themselves give the pink slip to Chavez before 2012, preserving their fortunes....
Do not expect miracles whatever the result is, even if all ballots are counted as they should. This is an inflection point, NOT the end of the road. The best we can hope is that we start getting a rosier vision of what that end could be.
PS: my probability % are strictly gut feeling and could be totally different tomorrow. Don't put too much credit on them :)