Apparently a lot of people seem to think that Chavez final undoing will come December 2012. I would not be so certain of that however, and since there is nothing we can do at this time but prepare for these elections we might as well do it. The stakes are high: besides being the most difficult elections that the democratic opposition will face, and complicated since we will vote for president, governors and mayors, the opposition will have in front a cornered Chavez with an ideologized public administration scared to lose its job . Too many people are bound to go to jail in a post Chavez era to make these coming elections normal and democratic.
This being said, let’s inaugurate the new tab “2012 megavote” today with what should be an ideal model to select the presidential candidate. Nobody in the MUD would be caught dead acknowledging that they read English language blogs, even though we predict electoral results better than what they do. Thus whatever is written below is wishful thinking that shall go unheard, but at least it will give us someday the dim pleasure of the "I told you so, you jerk!".
The first point to settle is to decide when we should have an up and running presidential candidate. I think that by Christmas at the latest we should know who our man or woman is (yes, there is at least one female credible presidential candidate). I my point of view there are many plus for that. After 13 years of Chavez, with a lock on the media, the opposition candidate will need to go to every single corner of Venezuela and shake, oh, say, 2 million hands. 11 months seem to be the very minimum for such a task.
Also since the primary system will be chosen for the selection, a semester will be the necessary time to make sure that all bruised egos are soothed so that by June 2012 all, ALL are on board.
Finally after 11 months of campaign it really will not matter anymore what Chavez says against the candidate, and be sure that he will even tell the candidate "de que mal se va a morir" as we say in Venezuela (predicting the way you will die). That is, whatever repetitive attacks Chavez comes up with, people will get tired enough of them that they will stop having the hoped for effect.
And as a bonus point, the MUD can deal with the muddy process to select governor and mayor candidates in the first quarter of 2012, somewhat shielded from interfering chavistas since they will have a lightning rod to deal with. The MUD should resist any attempt to link the two selection process and the winner of the presidential primary should make a public compromise no to interfere in other primaries. Not to mention that the contrast with a Chavez deciding who runs where will be noticed by the populace, no?
That is why I think the presidential primaries should be held by November 1 (agreeing with Petkoff on that one) so the second round is held in early December and that governor and mayor can be selected by mid February, a distance far enough removed form the presidential primary to limit the effect of its result but not too far so as not to affect the presidential campaign.
Some will object that this is quite a long campaign! Have they not noticed that Chavez is on campaign since last October? How long do you think we can leave him alone occupying the field before people become irremediably dumb to any opposition message, if anything through sheer fatigue?
The good news is that the opposition has finally learned that the best way to increase the odds for its candidates is to have them selected through primaries. It is not a fail safe method, but so far it has proven to be the best one. True, it is expensive and at least in the case of many mayors and governors a consensus candidate could be picked up in many districts (amen of successful guys running for reelection) but the presidential nominee should be selected by a primary vote.
Now the problem comes from the number of candidates and what to do if none of them reaches the 50% at the first round?
The issue here is that there is at least 4 candidates that can get at least 15% of the vote each at this time: the governors of Zulia and Miranda, the mayor of Caracas at large, Leopoldo Lopez if he wins his trial in March. To this you can add a few names that if they chose to run can get at least a 5%: a couple of congresspeople and a couple of ex or sitting governors come to mind. As I see it myself there is only a couple of candidates TODAY that can reach 30% of a primary vote. So, unless something happens during the primary campaign we can be certain that a second round ballot is necessary.
I have an idea that can save money and help opposition consensus. And it comes from the need to also create a political program that any opposition candidate shall subscribe to. However before we get into this let me state that the problem really is not in the number of candidates, the problem is how to whet a winner. Democracy is good and choice is good, in contrast to the self proclaimed pathological uniqueness of the red side.
The first thing to understand is that whomever is elected in 2012 will have to deal with a country pretty much destroyed institutionally and hardly better off physically. And with a bureaucracy bent on sabotaging so that chavismo can come back ASAP, even through a coup or engineered popular revolt. If Chavez is formidable in power imagine his bile in opposition, financed by all the cash they have hid away for such an eventuality.
I think that the MUD would be well advised in considering that the next president will in fact have to take so many unpopular measures that it must self define as a transition government set to accomplish a given task in a period of no more than 2 years. By then it will either be needing to call for a constitutional assembly to reduce the final pockets of sabotaging chavismo or call for a new presidential election if the situation has improved some so that a real president with a real 6 year plan can be elected to preside over a recovering country now that a plan can be traced again.
Thus a two year program should be crafted even if hidden in a more general 6 year proposal for a country that has trouble grasping the disaster we are in. How to build this? Well, I think that an assembly separate from the MUD should be in charge since the MUD is recently showing dangerous signs of not seeing that reality and becoming more interested in individuals political future. It should include for example a delegation of 15 representatives from the new assembly opposition group, one delegate from any governor of the opposition, including the PPT ones. Also for good measure a group of 10 folks named by the sitting mayors. That is 31 folks named by duly elected people with experience in ruling Venezuela today
To this you add 40 representatives selected during the primaries in a strict proportional system. Thus any candidate who gets at least 2.5% of the vote gets a seat at the table, to have his or her voice included in the debate.
We would then have a representative assembly of 71 people who not only will draft the final platform recognizing the mayor input of the winning candidate but they can also be the ones performing the second round balloting between all the candidates that get, say, 20% of the vote at the first round as long as none gets 50%. And if one gets 51% on primary day, well the other ones get the consoling prize of having a voice at the table anyway.
So yes, it is an intellectual and rational program that is not in touch with the emotional reality of our politicians but allow myself to indulge, will you?
But of course this will not happen. We will probably need to pay for a bruising second round and the winner will do a hard bargain with the MUD to establish a program that only in his wildest dreams could have a remote chance of success. Along the way a few actors of the MUD will be pissed off enough that albeit not running on the side they will not support actively in 2012 the winning candidate either. So what can we do to temper the possible negative effects?
Naming mayors and governors through consensus as much as possible. The only way to minimize the costs that will be needed for a second round primary for the presidential level. After all it did not work that bad last time around and should not be an issue for 90% of the sitting officials wishing to run again. Also were we know for sure that chavismo will win (Trujillo, Portuguesa, Delta Amacuro, etc...) what do we care about this time around? The president seat is the one we need, not the Tucupita State House!
Tarjeta unica. This time around the opposition should not fudge around. Since the primaries will be the way to measure the individual political parties weight, the opposition should run its unity candidate under a single label to simplify the voting process and to show clearly the unity intention. Period.
This has several advantages. First, bruised egos from the primaries rounds will have the solace to know that even the winners will not be able to parade on December 2012 since all votes will be counted together (remember: in Venezuela some candidates might be supported by more than 20 organizations, all with their specific colored ballot! Political parties use to brag about their fractioned results even though in many cases they should not).
Second, unity at the top would encourage more unity below. This is critical because several state houses or town halls could be lost for tiny amount of votes. For example the reelection of Falcon will probably require a strong unity in Lara and many would refuse to vote for him through a PPT label but might do through a unity label. Similar situation in the city of Maracay
Make sure to include openly all elected officials. Obvious you may say but not really. The unity presidential candidate will need to make a point to support publicly every single candidate for governor and mayor no matter what party that one comes from. In addition it should be clear that any elected official that wishes to help him run the campaign is welcome. Paraphrasing an old Roman saying: the unity presidential candidate should not only be a unity candidate but also act like one.
Well, that is all for now.