The five candidates who want to hold the unity banner against Hugo Chavez gathered tonight for their first debate (first, I write optimistically as there is no certainty that further debates will be held).
The good news is that there was no clear loser or winner. That is, all accounted for themselves, more or less felicitously, but all demonstrating that they can be a better president than Chavez. The debate had a clear amateurish feel because it was organized by student movement. As such every student union of the major universities that oppose Chavez was allowed to send a representative to ask on the subjects of education, personal security and employment. We are talking a dozen universities here, which contain among themselves 90% of the best and brightest. That was good. What was amateurish is the set up and the moderator. But still, it all worked out in the end.
The individual performances, in no particular order.
His wa the most puzzling. He squarely pressed for his program which is to call for a new constituent assembly because even if the Unidad candidate wins s/he will not be able to rule as the rest of the “institutions” are going to do their best to sabotage. Also he took bravely the personal risk to publicly accuse the army to be directed by a group of narco-generals and Chavez for letting this happen. As a grand gesture he also said that on November 21 he would be deposing in the Hague tribunal a law suit against Chavez. One almost had the sense that Arria is not worried whatsoever about winning the debate or the primary: he is a self appointed Cassandra willing to risk his hide for his message to be heard. Whether you agree with him, it certainly forces one's respect.
Henrique Capriles Radonski
If we must at gun point name a loser it would be him. He did not say anything bad but his message was not the one you use to win a primary election, unless you assume that chavista are already going to cross lines on February 12 2012. Certainly tonight he did not win any vote in the hard core opposition, and he might even have lost a few when confronted to the stern message of Arria or the direct willful one of Maria Corina Machado. And as I have already noted often, the campaign for a primary election is not the same as for the general election: the first one is won on the fringes and the second one in the center. In other words, the oatmeal he served tonight was not very helpful or convincing on his abilities to defend us against the evil machinery that Arria was exposing next lectern.
If there is a winner tonight it probably should be him because he was expected to be the one performing the worst. By not making any blunder, by appearing more forceful than HCR even though serving a similar oatmeal version he acquitted himself well and thus did himself some good at a time where many are questioning his abilities. His campaign seems to have understood that a little bit of chili might turn the oatmeal into a more meaty beany concoction.
In a way he was a little bit of a disappointment because he suffered in reverse the Perez curse as the one expected to do best. By not outshining his opponents he did not help his cause even if he was the one better able to tie emotion, convictions and articulation of ideas. All the other ones were good in one of the three, maybe even in two, but he was the best one at managing these three pillars of debate technique. I think his error was here to soften his stump speech hoping to take a few votes away from HCR and PP. He even stopped saying that Chavez is afraid of the Unidad (or I missed it).
Maria Corinna Machado
At the beginning of the debate I had the sense that she was going to win. She probably scored more points than the others, in particular in her unambiguous defense of private property (missed mostly by the other guys, or very subdued) or her handling on the real causes of Venezuelan violence. But if her convictions and ideas came across clear and loud, the implementation part was less convincing. Even if the other guys did not say much on the “how to” they were better able than her to fool us into they having a plan.
Thus the reasons there is no real winner. PP should keep his numbers and maybe gain a couple of points. MCM should now appear in polls with 5 to 10 points. HCR should be going down to PP levels, and Leopoldo should stay where he is right now. Arria I have no idea if he will gain with his performance no matter how right he was because people who think him to be right might go to MCM anyway as younger. Such is the cruelty of politics.
Thus no dramatic changes are to be expected in poll numbers, but maybe a change in trends. We’ll see soon enough.
And for the bad news now. The first one is a bad-good one in fact. Chavez did do a cadena but he had the good sense to stop it before 8 PM. His ego is unable to tolerate that tomorrow he will not be front page news and he had to make waves. But that of course will hurt him as even fervent chavistas will find it odd that he could not resist talking his ass off on a night that in all fairness belonged to the opposition If anything, this obvious drive to shut down the opposition can only make disappointed chavista want to listen to whatever they are offering on the other side.
The other bad news is that at least 33% of the country did not have access to the debate. With Chavez onslaught on the media to watch the debate you had either to live in Caracas or Valencia, or subscribe to cable TV service everywhere else in the country. Let’s of course forget about the state TV which would never accept to represent the opposition under any favorable light. But the lone private networks that have a nation wide coverage did not show the debate. Certainly Venevision can now be considered pro Chavez, but I was disappointed that Televen did not promise at least a rebroadcast at 11 PM (or I missed it). This speaks volumes on the success of Chavez in closing media and imposing self censorship: only Globovision networks and some small local TV did show the debate. Food for thought, my friends, that at the very least a third of the country could not listen to the debate while through the previous cadena 100% were forced to watch Chavez unless cable allowed escape.
PS: I did not report live on the debate because my internet sucks. Also I had to pass an invitation to report live from the place because I had some obligations that I could not avoid whatsoever. I was planning to try a live tweet thing there but it shall be for some other opportunity.
And you have no idea how difficult it was for me to get this little window of Internet for this post..... A little bit more and I was in the 33% that had no access to the debate! and I am back in Caracas.
PS2: if Venevision and Televen could not be bothered with the debate it seems that the news is big enough for CÑN