Among the fall out of last Monday presidential debate, I am bewildered about the lack of understanding of the event by the general populace, and even more befuddled by the wish to design a winner/loser at all cost by pundits that should know better. To the point that I am having serious doubts about whether it was all worth it if people are going to misinterpret it all. Not that I hold the truth, mind you, I am just pointing out at the overheated hyper-ventilation that I heard here and there. Thus a few points, as usual in no particular order.
Winners versus losers
The main reason in saying that the issue is moot is that there seems to be 5 winners and 5 losers. And I am talking here just of people without affiliation and pundits, as every party will claim their man the winner and the other the sore losers, as it should be.
However as the dust settle and one thinks better about last Monday night, I am forced to admit that there are three "winners" and two "losers". The winners, those that people talk about the most in good (or bad, as there is not such as bad publicity) are Arria, Machado and Perez. And pretty much for the reasons I advanced though it looks that Arria was the one with the biggest impact over all. Then again I suspect that he was a novelty for quite a lot of people in spite of all his hard work to figure in the front pages since his farm was seized. The reason, I presume, is that less people than one thinks do read El Universal and El Nacional where they are more willing to pay attention to Arria's words as the rest of the press is more into current novelties.
As for the losers, well, Lopez was under-performing and Capriles sounds more and more"blah". Nobody disliked them, they "lost" because they were less exciting, whatever rationale you may advance, from the format to their characters.
The art of debating
In a way these wishes for winner and this hunger for blood (?) may come from a lack of habit of political debate, never strong before Chavez and simply absent since 1998. We had to wait until 2010 legislative campaign which held some debate for the limited primaries the opposition held then. The exercise was interesting because it revealed that some had no idea what they were running for since they claimed they would fix potholes from the national assembly. Some of them did made it to the assembly and now we see the results.....
At any rate that limited exercise took place on the set of Globovision and few really bothered to follow.
The trouble this time is that none of the 5 candidates can risk trashing one of their competitors. They all come from different political ideologies and that the Unidad is an electoral alliance, not a ideological one. If these were the US, all proportions guarded, Machado and Arria would be the Republican primaries and Perez and Capriles the Democratic one, and Lopez a strong independent, a cross between Perot and Anderson (I know, I am dating myself) not allowed to participate until the real presidential debates. North American readers would easily understand that such a primary debate would end up in a fist fight....
Thus what happened Monday night was a floral games of words, where all were testing the waters on an unprecedented, here or elsewhere, kind of debate of sworn enemies that need to work together in the end, no matter what. Since it seems that there will be more debates I expect that these will still not leave bleeding candidates but at least offer us an occasional bruise.
Perhaps the real interesting result of Monday was not in the winner/loser/was-that-a-debate? considerations but in showing that there are really two trends inside the opposition and that these should work it out in a debating system that helps seek common ground more than select a candidate.
Machado and Arria do represent what we can call today the Venezuelan right, not worried about prayer in school, abortion or forcing out Islamic veils. This right, exhausted by years of political mediocrity and cheap populism is more concerned about the basics: law and order with private property protection.
The other three represent the Holy Grail of Venezuelan politics: a balanced populism that works, with ethics and with as little corruption as possible. Since it never was found in the last half century, I doubt it will appear this time around the more so that the feeble institutions we had in 1998 have been swept away altogether.
Maybe the fact that the perceived winners were Arria and Machado means that people are suddenly becoming awake/aware to the need of holding this debate, the real debate if you ask me. Thus a possible change in trends as Machado and Arria should start climbing in polls even if they may never cross the 20% line.
These new trends would make Leopoldo Lopez the king maker even though he lost some shine last Monday. If he courageously were to embrace more clearly the emerging "right" line he could even the odds which are, debate or no debate, favoring Perez and Capriles. But if Lopez, Machado and Arria link efforts then all could change, and very quickly as Lopez is the popular, caring caution that that right needs.
Or Leopoldo could prefer to go safe and make his pick between Capriles and Perez, probably Perez, and render his choice unstoppable at the cost of giving up the presidency for the time being. Or go on his own and may the Devil's care of the end result in February.
UPDATE, adding an item tot he list
Just a little note. A "poll" reproted by Globovision says that Capriels got the best marks for the debate. Globovision should be ashamed to report on such a poll as it comes from an unknown pollster (to me, anyway), was done over the phone with 100 folks and all sorts of additional inconsistencies...
I mean, it is so bad that I hope it was paid for by enemies of Capriles...
AGAIN: watch out for polls and surreptitious endorsements before you decide what is going on in the campaign....