Thus it is time to round up the primary 2012 series of posts, reserving the label for a few more posts until late next week, as results are commented. Three items in this post..
The first thing that I need to write is that in spite of all my fears the MUD-UNIDAD has managed the process much better than expected. With so many landmines on the way, it is a miracle that we have come this far and that the perspectives are rather good for February 13, and beyond. All is not played, though, many mistakes will need to be corrected such as having primaries for mayor MORE THAN ONE YEAR before the actual election. But in all truth, if Chavez is reelected voting for mayors in 2013 will be sort of pointless. Thus this is sort of an apology to some of my criticism to the MUD in the past 6 months. But other criticisms still stand, just in case.
The second item is that before I write my endorsement it is important to summarize the primary campaign that is finishing in barely 48 hours. First, we need to underline the historical importance of what has happened, something almost without precedent, besides maybe the "concertación" in Chile. A democratic opposition going from the democratic left to more right wing sentiment has managed to carry a process that indicate a clear mandate for whomever wins next Sunday, no matter what the vote counts yields. Here, the mandate is for the winner to reestablish democracy in Venezuela, to repair the structure of the state. Never in our history we have faced such a challenge. Even Punto Fijo did not have to face such a daunting task because Perez Jimenez was not into destroying the structures of the state, merely appropriating them. Chavez has been bent on destroying the state to replace it by his lone will. Period.
The other salient historical fact is the fast modernization of our politics. That such a primary was held, that for the first time there were so many debates (even if incomplete and sometimes unsatisfactory), that all candidates had to submit themselves to such a battery of interviews, talk shows and assorted questioning is a novelty for us. This has had the side benefit to expose crudely the arrogance that wraps today chavismo, uncountable to any but Chavez. As a master class of democracy in a country that truly never experienced it, we have to thank the MUD and the candidates that decided to play the new game in town. Their legacy, to the 5 of them, including Leopoldo Lopez, including those that did not manage to sing up for diverse reasons, including those at local level that accepted some form of questioning, will be bearing its fruits in the years to come.
PREDICTION: considering the positive spirit that the Unidad and its candidates have manged to create I think that we should cross easily the 2 million vote barrier. That will be a stunning success, no matter what chavismo may say after the fact, the more so that they have no primary whatsoever planned.
And we reach the time to endorse for VN&V. But before I do so, we need to review the pro and con of each candidate even if in earlier post I already discarded some of them.
Arria had the best proposal, the one that made the most sense, the one that all the other candidates will have to rally at some point, the one that the winner will have to face soon in his term if elected. Arria told us that there is not such a thing as the state anymore, just a crowd of corrupt hanger on that do whatever Chavez and his colonial masters in Havanna dictate. For him it is impossible to restore the republic without refunding it through a constitutional assembly that will remove all of these people who may be legal but who have long ceased to be legitimate.
Arria also added that he would be a transition president, for no more than three years, willing to pay the political price for the needed changes. And if that was excellent and even visionary, it was also his undoing. Arria never felt the need to propose a real transition program, using the excuse that he could not promise anything until he knew in which shape the country will be at inauguration time. That did not fly with the electorate and he was never able to capitalize on his political stunts, from sending Chavez accusation to The Hague tribunal, to call for a constituent assembly. He should have bothered to at least establish some priorities to try in his three year term, something like that: "I cannot promise anything 'cause we may be broke by February 2013. But if there is some cash left somewhere I will try to do at least this, this and that". By the time he started mentioning some stuff it was too late in the campaign and only hard core anti chavistas were still interested in listening to him.
PREDICTION: 5% top, beating Medina only. However with a low participation, less than 1.5 million, he could well climb to 10% as his electorate is certainly the most motivated one.
If Arria had the clearest, more realistic proposal of all, Capriles had the best campaign. He started first, long before anyone else, proving he had planned for a long time his run and that he had his act together. Then he kept a steady pace, kept his message coherent, built relevant alliances and eventually brought on his side a candidate that really could bring a nice dowry to the union.
The problem with Capriles is the nature of his message. He run a campaign that could pay off in October, that should be run for October. As such he shot his best guns and now the enemy knows his strategy. The message of Capriles was one of reconciliation, of working together, to attract the contractual chavista voter, the one that votes for interest. Either that voter would not be afraid to switch to Capriles as early as February, or may at least stay home in October instead of going out to vote for a Chavez s/he does not like but is afraid of. It paid off as he is leading in the polls, but it remains to see what will happen now that Chavez will focus on him. But my main worry is not what will happen before October 7 but what will happen after. After a non confrontational campaign if Capriles wins he will have no mandate to stare down chavista "institutions" that will be sabotaging his actions from day one. There is the possibility that his victory could actually make things worse in the long term as a violent chavismo, defeated and bitter, will not be afraid of his perceived blandness. His rather easy primary victory may actually make his October campaign more difficult than what it needs to be.
PREDICTION: based on suspicious but not necessarily wrong polls, based on "as seen on TV" rallies, Capriles will win next Sunday. But I give him at most 50%, which is very good, which gives him all the legitimacy he needs to represent the opposition. Still, the electorate is significantly fickle at this point while many have come out to endorse Perez (Tal Cual journalists at large, for example). Thus he may win but by not much more than 40%. My final word: 45%, if participation does not go above 2 million. If it goes above that then it means that some chavistas are voting, and doing it for him, pushing him to 50%.
Maria Corina Machado
Without any contest, she was the winner in brain and wonkishness. In all debates she had the razor sharp mind at all times whereas all of the other candidates at one point or another were fuzzy, unfocused, avoiding, etc.. pretending maybe to be dumber than what they really are. That is, she may not have "won" every debate, but she was consistently up there. It became clear that the woman is able to be the president, to manage the country and to stare down chavismo as needed. And she demonstrated that by getting the best line of the campaign, the moment that we will all remember 10 years from now, when she publicly told Chavez that his regime is a gang of thieves. But more importantly she was the lone candidate with a deep vision of change, not merely of fixing up Chavez mistakes. Maybe her vision is not applicable until someone like Arria resets the counters, but at least for the first time since I can remember a credible politician was able to expose a new possible vision for the country, away from soon 60 years of the crassest populism that Latin America experienced outside the PRI long tenure in Mexico or the Peronista zombie still kicking in Argentina.
But she was not able, and maybe worse, unwilling, to confront her weaknesses which casts a doubt about her political flair. Her campaign was good and bad at the same time. She waited for too long to officially launch her run, hoping until the very end to have the backing of some political machinery. When she failed at it she pretended to be a strictly an independent candidate. Maybe that could have worked but it did not. Running in Venezuela today without the minimum machinery is simply impossible. The example of Leopoldo is here for all: he started from nothing by building first a small but efficient machinery, Voluntad Popular. Then all wanted his body and he was able to trade high. She certainly did not have time to build her own machinery but she refused to pretend she would be building one, assuming that her presence and brain were enough. They were not in a country where most workers from any campaign expect something in exchange, even if they are willing to accept that it may take years. Even that long ahead promise was denied by Machado to his potential followers. Yesterday she still refused to talk about a post February 12 organization of her following into some political relevance. Now voters are going to force her to build an electoral movement.
PREDICTION: difficult. I think she should get at least 10%. If she does, she will have a future, if she does not, well, back to a honorable career at the National Assembly. Like Arria, the less the voters Sunday the better her chances to cross 10%.
Medina deserves the "most improved award. That is, Medina has shown that you could overcome humble origins, a mean trade union past, and learn to think and understand that we all need to work together, the state, the workers, the business owners. On this respect maybe Medina is the one that brought the most to the campaign and he deserves a special mention and at least my gratitude.
However, not having a campaign worth discussing (he was the one with the lowest means of all), not being focused enough in debates (he tends still to be too dispersed in his argumentation) give him no chance whatsoever. Yet, I will not rule it out for him to get a 2-3% of the votes as some workers may want to vote for him, either from the Chavez or anti Chavez camp, to make sure their voices are heard after February 12.
Poor Pablo Perez.... 6 months ago he looked like a formidable candidate but too many mistakes along the way undid him, in spite of owning the largest state of Venezuela, and the most endorsements as far as I can tell. If the Capriles campaign may make it to the text books for what to do, the one of Perez will also make it for what not to do. He started late and with lots of difficulty since Rosales wanted a go. Thus his leadership started with a tiny wound. Then he delayed further as he actively sought the endorsement of allegedly electoral machinery parties such as AD and COPEI. And then he started a campaign under the same themes as Capriles, but after Capriles had had 3 months to make his case. Capriles was already leading him by 10 points and that never shrunk, with a tendency to increase as Perez was as underwhelming in debates as Capriles was.
And yet Perez had a lot to go for him. He is of a more popular origin than the other guys except for Medina and thus is able to connect better with "el pueblo". On paper, just with Zulia's state, he has half the votes needed for the nomination. Supposedly another 25% was ensured by his neighboring states, so he had less votes to seek out than the other guys. He has not been a bad governor, considering the intense sabotage and attacks he has been subjected to by the regime. And he was able to offer a more genuine social democrat vision than the one offered by Capriles which some times is hard to swallow by some (such as yours truly). And he is able to adapt his message better than the other guys, finding for example the right touch to reach out for the more hard core opposition, when needed. But the campaign errors were too much, I am afraid that even his latest push will not be enough.
PREDICTION: although a last minute surge is always possible, he should not get much more than a 30% of the votes. And even if the vaunted machinery plays in the end, his eventual victory over Capriles could never be more than by a meager 2 or 3 points. His latest harsher position on Chavez may be to late to carve into Machado and Arria while it makes sure that most putative chavista votes will go to Capriles. Thus a higher participation, more than 2 millions, is not a guarantee that the machinery is actually playing in his favor. I would give him 40% at best, if all coalesces miraculously at the last minute with a tad of an "all against Capriles" attitude which I am not seeing, and that pretty much was voided when "Capoldo" was born..
First, I must stress that I never intended to decide my vote before the very end. That is, I wanted and I have enjoyed this campaign immensely and was NEVER in any urge to pick a favorite even if readers were aware of my sympathies for Leopoldo Lopez. But with his withdrawal I was back into the search, though having discarded already Capriles, Medina and Perez. Before I tell you my final choice and why, you must know that whomever wins Sunday will find me as his firm defender, and apologist if needed. By March any new reader to this blog may be forgiven to think that I am a dye hard fan of the winner.
My final choice is a compromise between principles and pragmatism, made easier by the all but certain victory of Capriles, which victory margin will be owed to Lopez. Thus I do not need to vote for them, knowing that they will do well, that they do not need my vote and thus satisfying my inborn repulsion to any concept of voting for the winner, eating what everyone else does, etc... Once a "different drummer" always a different one. That they are more than likely going to win will only make my transition to support Capriles easier, much easier, than supporting Perez for October 7.
I will not vote for Arria even though I personally know him and I know he is right. Oh so right.... But his campaign has raised concerns in me in that it is not enough to be right, you also need to project that you have a fighting chance to prove it. I never saw that in the campaign even though I know he had it in him.
And thus my vote will go for Maria Corina Machado with the hope that she will use it for the best, that she will force Capriles not to compromise too much his message, that she will create a valid modern right option for Venezuela, what we sorely need in politics. And this is written by a Liberal in the US sense, an agnostic perturbed by some religious stands of Machado. But also someone that is keenly aware that it is our history of populism that has killed all real political debate, denied any alternative, and thus that has allowed a monstrosity like Chavez to pass.
The message of Maria Corina Machado is that it is possible to build an alternative but that we need to work on it, accept defeats before victories. If she succeeds, no matter where we stand on the political spectrum we will be better off for it, because only when there is true political debate and true choices do we avoid the fate of chavismo or peronismo which are never a choice but an escape route for the weak minded.
May she prove me right.