I am back in Yaracuy after a two weeks absence as voting duty calls me (and my business of course even though these days there is little business to do, but that is another story).
The first thing that caught my attention is that there is no Capriles ads left, not even from last October still hanging here and there. Posters have been removed, walls painted over. If you visit San Felipe today you would be forgiven from thinking that there is a single candidate for next Sunday, Maduro. Coming from Caracas, where Maduro posters are overwhelming you still see enough evidence that he is not alone in the race. Here, in my local boondocks, no.
After an initial shock, rather depressing, I recovered quickly thinking first that Capriles has not had the time to visit Yaracuy recently. Well, he tried but arrived under pouring rain and decided wisely to move on to Carora in next door Lara. But I recovered further realizing that this overwhelming display of Maduro may actually play against him: there is the possibility of an overreach of his campaign that in the final days may backfire badly, maybe backfire enough to have him lose the election.
I am starting to wonder if the carefully laid plans to ensure a post Chavez era may have made a few serious mistakes. The strategy would been roughly the following. First, make as much profit as possible from Chavez demise. Second, have him die when convenient, once Maduro has become a credible power substitute. Third, prepare as much cash as possible, as much electoral material as possible, secretly, so as to unleash it against the opposition before this one has a chance to print its first poster, if it can print any. And fourth, make it a campaign short enough that the opposition will not have time to place its candidate as a credible substitute.
I am not going into the already well established blunders such as devaluation, twice, or mixing up Chavez death scenery lies. On a strictly campaign issue I am beginning to think that chavismo well laid plans are actually backfiring.
Let's start with the excessive campaign advertising, and the local efficiency of chavistas papering over even the last remaining traces of 2012 campaigns. Why would Yaracuy voters feel particularly excited to go and vote for Maduro since the streets clearly point out that he is a safe winner? How many chavistas will abstain out of sheer lazyness or self complacency? And how many opposition will be so incensed by the abuse that they will campaign hard on their own and vote with a revenge? Questions without answers, for the time being.....
But the other mistake on a purely campaign strategic point of view, is to have contrived for a too short electoral campaign. I am sure that all parties would have agreed that the constitutional provision of a single month is simply stupid and adding a couple of weeks of campaign more would have met with no opposition from neither camp. But the decision was made to make it short because there was already evidence through December and January that Maduro was not all what he was cracked up to be, in addition of being the original plan.
The thing is that the decision forced Capriles into a gamble, but one worth taking. Instead of positioning himself as to why people should vote for him, he decided to go for the why people should not vote for Maduro. And so far it seems to be paying off as Maduro has been unable to articulate any reason to vote for him except because Chavez said so. Which is maybe by itself counter productive as Chavez always gave several reasons as to why you should vote for him.....
Capriles was right to take the gamble. First, he has gone all over the country in his preceding campaign whereas Maduro has just started doing so. Capriles has trusted people to remember why he was offering himself to vote for him, what he promised to deliver. Maduro, even when Chavez gave him the nod, delayed too much before presenting his case because he could not, would not, make it look to obvious that he was already ruling instead of Chavez. So Capriles fulfilled, willingly or not, one of the tenets of negative campaign: state first why people should vote for you before you state why they should not vote for the other guy.
That is one of the reasons why Capriles campaign has been so successful so far, obtaining its first success which is to mobilize in full his electorate of October 2012, condition sine qua non of a putative victory next Sunday. The paradox today is that Maduro is now the one needing more campaign time! He has not been able to find a formula, a good turn of phrase to counter the ones that Capriles has been sending his way, to the rhythm of almost one new punch line a day, from "mentira fresca" to "flojo"..... Maduro's "caprichito" is so lame that it is itself counterproductive as it proves perversely that the "flojo", lazy, is also mental....
The short campaign may have in fact benefited Capriles more than Maduro!
I do not mean to write that Capriles has won, there is still too much going against in in this more than unfair election, but I am willing to say now that Maduro is not going to get the mandate he needs to impose his authority inside chavismo, if he wins. And this by itself will be a success for the opposition as a weak Maduro will have no honeymoon whatsoever.
Yet, who knows? When so many mistakes are made in one camp from general campaign strategy to the everyday blunder, Capriles committed and brilliant aggressiveness may pay off in the end.