ABC of Spain strikes again. According to their latest report, he is in his last throes, was sent to La Orchila, a presidential island that he has set up already in 2011 with a mini hospital for his personal use (modeled on the ones of the Castro's?). I do not know whether ABC is on the mark but in the past they have been proven right more often than wrong and the conspicuous absence of relatives visiting Chavez at the Military Hospital has made too many suspect that he is not there to begin with.
Never mind that for all practical purposes Maduro is on campaign trail since early January; though wits would point out that Venezuela has been for all practical purposes a permanent campaign since mid 1998.....
It is thus time to start a first formal survey of the electoral situation, even though I have been using the tag "2013 elections" for quite a while already. Fear not, it is going to be rather simple.
My impression is that nothing much has changed since October 7 2012; nor is there any reason to change anything. The cult of Chavez "martyrdom" is enough to compensate, for the time being, whatever is going bad in the country. We saw that in December where chavismo went down already by a few points but since the opposition made its own errors they were still able to carry the day and trash the opposition. YVpolis in his first calculation agrees with my intuition, so to speak.
We thus start with, for simplification, a 55% to 45% spread (8,2 to 6,6 millions). What is more important than the spread is the solidity of each block because, let's not forget, the election was won by Chavez on a low abstention courtesy of an impressive get out the vote machinery, and vote buying to boot, of course. But it is clear that without Chavez on top of the ticket abstention is going to be larger. Not to mention that the motivation for the get out of the vote team is going to be more expensive with Maduro than with Chavez. Can we see, say, 0,4 million lost to abstention already there?
In addition the mishandling and manipulation of the Chavez final days by the regime could also turn off quite a few chavista voters. They may either join the abstention ranks and some even vote for the opposition to punish Maduro et al. Let's just say that they will abstain because of the manipulation and thus we could perhaps guess an extra 0,3 million. Chavismo does get down to 7,5 at the start of the 1 month campaign (1).
In chavismo favor, besides the emotional manipulation of Chavez diseases, there is that the economic situation has not worsened in a palpable way outside of high scarcity index. By June it will become a real issue thiough with a preemptive small minimum wage hike before traditional May 1, they could slow down that erosion. Still, I think that it is safe to say that the worsening economic situation has been eroding the chavista base by 0,05 million a month since October; by May 1 it would be an extra 0,3 million loss, to abstention but maybe also in favor of the opposition.
My personal opinion is that Maduro high score is thus not going to be more than 7,2 million votes. If elections are held in May, and if he really botches Chavez funeral.
The opposition starts with a more solid 6,6 million block to which maybe it can add 0,3 transfer from chavismo once Chavez is not on top of the ticket. Lo'n behold, we are 6,9 to 7,2, a slim advantage for Maduro that he can lose very easily with a single campaign blunder. But it is not that easy.
First, the opposition ill timed response to electoral abuse and post October 7, and the December 16 after shock have demotivated some significant sectors. It can still be recovered but it is previous scarce energy and resources diverted. Let's say that in the end it does not represent more than 0,1 disgruntled abstention-ists (and I am not including Arria there because I am sure that as soon as the MUD launches his candidate, whoever that one is Arria will be behind as much as he can; I am talking more of tweeter warriors from Caracas...).
Much more worrisome for the opposition is its resource scarcity. It has had no time to refurbish its coffers, meager in normal times already compared to the abuse of public funding that Maduro will benefit from. In addition the loss of Tachira, Zulia and Carabobo in December, will limit even more its possibilities. Not only with material help but also with the absence of vocal leaders who we have not heard from since December, by the way.
The opposition also needs a candidate and the unavoidable one is Capriles, if he decides to run. Since the Maduro campaign will wreck any record in abuse and cheating the outcome is almost certain loss for the opposition. The paradoxical choice here for the opposition is to decide whether to gamble on a Maduro victory hoping for an economic collapse in no more than a year which will signify a forced change of regime. Or go for it anyway.
In short, if the opposition thinks it is winnable against Maduro they will send Capriles. If they think the thing will be stolen they may want to go with Ledezma or another one. This is probably the reason while the opposition is still not announcing its candidate no matter that people like Petkoff already claim they should do.
But even if Capriles is the candidate the opposition problems are not solved. To counter the grumbling there will be the need for a real ticket, say, Capriles picking Falcon as his first vice president, and that the Capriles campaign commando is removed from the hands of Primero Justicia, and in particular Armando Briquet who in my opinion lost more votes than he gained in his 2012 TV appearances. That he is allegedly Capriles best friend had me worry some about Capriles choice for his inner circle.... But I digress.
The good news for the opposition is that a good dose of realism and a few days of hard work can consolidate back the 6,6 million it counts on whereas chavismo erosion is inevitable in the current situation. I am not ready to write that the rock bottom of the opposition is 6,6, but it is still possible to become so.
Again, this is not a prediction. Considering that the regime will cheat outrageously and that the emotional momentum of the election varies month to month, it would be daredevil to advance any prediction. these may turned out to be the most unpredictable elections in recent history, or a walk through for Maduro, depending on how the demise of Chavez takes place.
1) According to my electoral calendar the next electoral date available is April 14 for a Chavez death/resignation announcement next week. Though I still think they will try to hold on for May 5, more convenient considering the busy holiday season ahead.