I suppose I should not break a long and on occasion distinguished electoral number crunching tradition. Even though elections have become a test of will rather than any democratic exercise it still matters that we look at the electoral considerations and perspectives. Even if diffidently. Thus this general and as brief as possible unique electoral post about what are not necessarily the main races to watch but rather those that should confirm the trend as to the waning of chavismo. Outside, of course, the ever present crass electoral fraud.
The municipal elections of December 8 have turned out to become a referendum on Maduro's tenure. It should not have been like this of course, since we are supposed to vote for the guy that we think is better at fixing potholes and picking up the garbage. But in a country where a mass expects only goodies and another mass resent populism and the accompanying sectarianism you cannot expect anything else but plebiscitary polarization, the more so that the Maduro "election" of last April is now established as fraudulent by any impartial observer.
The electoral board has done its homework. The Maduro camp is amply favored, from gerrymandering of many a council district, to an absolute blind eye on power abuse, from using the resources of the state as if nothing to legally bar as many candidates as possible that could win a given district away from chavismo. In addition the flaws amply documented last April, from dead people voting to guarantees that the vote will be secret have been ignored. The CNE is more than ever the Ministry of Chavistas to be Reelected.
Yet we need to go and vote. Firstly, it is either voting or taking a gun and start a guerrilla warfare. Voting does not imply meek acceptance of adverse fraudulent results, but if you do not bother to vote you cannot complain afterwards. So we need to have the election stolen from us in order to be allowed to bitch about it. It may be unfair but this is the way things work in the real world.
Secondly the situation is not that desperate. After all, the more we vote, the more we set up systems to defend our vote, the more difficult it is for the regime to cheat. We need to force the regime to go to an outright open vote stealing to have international opinion become less complacent. Not that they will send Marines or Legionaires, but no democrat will want to be seen with a fraud. In case you have not noticed it, Maduro is only received by his pariah colleagues, real democrats limit as much as possible exposure to the post Chavez cancer.
What I am trying to say here is that the nature of the CNE fraud is to improve the chavismo numbers by somewhere close to 5%. That is, the day chavismo gets in real life less than 45% it will not be able to claim a majority and the CNE will have no option but to announce that the opposition has 50,1% or more. Which would mean that it got at least 55% . If the real numbers are never announced it will not matter, the psychological earthquake of a losing chavismo should be enough to speed up the collapse of the regime.
This is why the regime has gone on overdrive in recent weeks reaching for the organized looting and destruction of commerce in the country. All polls pre-looting were implying that Maduro candidates were at least 10 points behind the opposition MUD, and sliding. Furthermore, contrary to Chavez good old days, Maduro does little, if any, direct candidate support: he is toxic. If Maduro is 10 points behind it means that when cheating is factored in chavismo loses 52 to 48 in favor of the MUD.
I personally doubt that the latest antics of the regime are going to favor chavismo much. At best it will energize chavismo bases but I doubt it will be enough for Maduro to regain his "number" of April. In fact, if votes are reasonably counted, I am on record that chavismo will not reach 6.5 million votes, a net loss of 1 million at the very least since April, in elections that may have a surprisingly high turnout for local votes.
On the other hand the paradox maybe that the opposition vote will not only be re-energized, but as many store clerks are losing their jobs these coming weeks, the opposition may gain a not insignificant number of weak chavista votes directly! I am willing to go on record that irregardless of the tally, the MUD will not get less than 400 K votes more than chavismo, cheating included. I can see easily chavismo getting no more than 6 million nationally and the MUD reaching the 6.5 million. Note, I am not predicting anything yet, nor will I considering the extraordinary emotionalism of this vote and the plain intention of electoral fraud from the regime. I am just saying that this 6 to 6.5 result would seem "normal" for me under current conditions. With such a result we would all know that in fact the opposition has now 1 million votes more than chavismo and that this one can stay in office only through violent repression.
It is interesting to note that today November 23 series of street protests all across the country, more or less attended according to the locale (it was as the expected bust in San Felipe for example, but a big hit in Caracas), has been yet another opportunity for the regime to go a notch further in repression. First there has been a blackout on all TV networks in coverage of that protest and Capriles had to go to CNN tonight so at least somewhere we knew what was going on. That was not all, the man in charge of organizing Capriles campaign travels across the country was arrested for a few hours by the state repressive security breaking into his home in the wee hours. Lopez was directly threatened with jail by Maduro. And other such incidents, including yet a new wave of mall "price police supervision" to try to lure shoppers to the mall instead of public protest. To no avail of course, but it betrays how far the regime will go by December 8.
Considering the above it should be clear for the reader that monitoring individual races is as much wishful thinking than actual electoral science. Thus in the table below I have only picked up a few races that should help the reader understand better the general political trend of the country in the last three years. The table uses the rounded up vote numbers of chavismo and opposition in 2008, the last municipal vote, and April 2013. In pink chavista districts and in blue opposition ones. Note, sometimes the color does not match the numbers because I have added numbers when there was a division in 2008. For example in Cocorote the opposition wins by a thousand but loses the mayor anyway because it went divided. The "total" at the bottom include the votes listed minus those of Libertador included in the Caracas at large. I have starred some districts which are "rural", for the sake of the discussion. I have calculated the percentile advantage for each election for chavismo which means that when the number is negative then the opposition leads. And to compare the two elections I calculated how that percentile moved in 4.5 years. Comments after the table.
MIRANDA CARACAS AND VARGAS
The Caracas Metro area has steadily been gained over by the opposition. Even in Vargas, the most pro Chavez area the opposition has progressed by 9.5%. If Libertador, downtown Caracas, is not a safe bet for the opposition (though its division seems to have been overcome) we should remember that in 2010 the opposition did win by a couple of thousands of votes. Thus Ledezma seems almost a shoo in for reelection for Caracas at large, some polls already giving him a 10% advance on Ernesto Villegas, and advance that may also help in taking Libertador.
If all the stunts to recover Caracas at large seem to have failed for chavismo the real races are elsewhere, in Miranda where the opposition will prove its growth only if it confirms that it is now a majority in Los Teques and it it takes Guatire. Thus the measure of success for the MUD here is to gain at least 2 out of Libertador, Los Teques and Guatire. It can be done, even the three of them and a bonus district in the Valles del Tuy which would be a true humiliation for chavismo.
ARAGUA CARABOBO AND YARACUY
There the opposition situation is not as favorable. There is really no great candidate at the top of any ticket, the decline of Proyecto Venezuela is not yet compensated by other groups, and the regime has played particularly dirty this time around screwing the natural candidate for Maracay, Mardo, and about to screw the one for Valencia, Cocchiola.
In Yaracuy we pay the consequences of division in 2008 which cost us ALL districts and thus no bases to rebuild. In addition the current rather vicious governor has sponsored many development for low social income in San Felipe turning this most anti Chavez district of Yaracuy iredder, while the middle class developments went to Independencia and Cocorote making them bluer. Thus the metro area of San Felipe may go MUD while San Felipe would remain chavista.
For good measure I have added three small rural districts. Except for Urachiche where the opposition was really low, its growth is not that great though real. Bejuma always lost for divisions this time around should finally go opposition. Boraure which is in part a dormitory of San Felipe could benefit from the pauperization of San Felipe which lured away some of its settlers to go this time around MUD.
The measure of opposition success in these states is to gain the three metro districts of San Felipe and Valencia. If Valencia in spite of all of chavismo treacheries is still likely MUD, a loss in San Felipe would not be compensated by a victory in Bejuma and Boraure. And taking Maracay is of course the true measure of success in that area, as it would prove that the military in this army rich district is not a monolith behind Maduro...
Barquisimeto should go MUD and maybe even Carora, in addition to Palavecimo. With this three districts chavismo would suffer a major set back. But even if Carora does not fall, taking Barquisimeto, once the jewel in Chavez crown, is going to be major psychological blow for chavismo. Then again they have only themselves to blame for having put a lousy mayor, not allowing her to run again so that a military lout is the candidate this time. The opposition MUD candidate is Ramos, not a great one, but compared to the chavista ones, after the humiliations imposed by Chavez on governor Falcon and even Barquisimeto, chavismo should not be surprised if it loses Barquisimeto by as much as 20 points.
This is one painful and unaccountable governor loss last year since even cheating was not that easy there in a state where UNT supposedly has a strong electoral machinery. Also the mayor of Maracaibo, nepotistically set in the wife of exiled ex governor Rosales, has not been that great. Still, the MUD can redeem itself by retaining Maracaibo and adding its southern urban district of San Francisco. Gaining these two districts is crucial for the MUD to remain viable in Zulia, regardless of what happens elsewhere in the state. It is possible considering that chavismo has launched an annoying clown for Maracaibo and that Omar Prieto in San Francisco has been one of the worst thugs of chavismo in recent years and people my be getting tired of the character.
TACHIRA MERIDA AND TRUJILLO
The Andes state are in turmoil after voting for Capriles in 2012 and amazingly putting up chavista governors 2 months later... Well, not Trujillo which is one of the most chavista states today even though its main and lone city Valera may just go MUD this time around. It would be a major success.
Tachira which unaccountably went from the most anti Chavez state to elect "moderate" chavista Vielma Mora should redeem itself with a smashing MUD victory in San Cristobal its state capital. Merida should also go MUD in its state capital and start undoing the damage of a series of unexplained lousy chavista governors by taking over the second urban district of El Vigia. Thus the measure of success in the Andes, more than how many districts the MUD gains, is to recover a solid vote plurality through Tachira and Merida and pick up Valera to dent Trujillo. Getting that is the best guarantee that the opposition has indeed a solid base for future challenges.
BARINAS PORTUGUESA AND GUARICO
The reader may have noted that I have not included Falcon and now I am skipping over Cojedes and Apure, but these three states do not weigh much today in the grand scheme of things. In the Llanos, Chavez bastion, the only possibility is to gain Barinas, the capital of the homonym state. More than anything else, getting the state capital of the state who cursed us with baby Chavez, is the best way to demonstrate that chavismo is indeed in the defensive.
I have included for good measure Acarigua and San Juan de Los Morros just to show that if there is progress for the MUD it is rather glacial for the hot weather of this region. Besides Barinas, the lone possible gain is San Juan.
ANZOATEGUI SUCRE NUEVA ESPARTA AND MONAGAS
These states that came late into chavismo grasp have never been that solid for it, besides Sucre the poorer one and a natural candidate for co-dependency politics. Nueva Esparta was lost in December because Morel wanted to run for the nth time and not having been such a great governor, well, he got booted. There the race to watch is Porlamar, the main district, which should go MUD but where chavismo has dispatched one of its few stars, at least compared to other lifeless polticos. From my last visit I am still calling it a toss up.
Sucre I am afraid is not to be recovered this time around once the Voluntad Popular representative of Cumana was blackmailed rather too easily to join chavismo. Getting Cumana is as much as we can hope for. Carupano would be a feat for the annals.
Anzoategui is also a land of betrayal as the El Tigre Paraquiema family left chavismo and came back to it. In spite of that, or maybe becasue of that, Capriels did rather well last April.
And in Monagas which voted for Chavez even though he forced them to drink contaminated water we have no hope except for an upset in Maturin though its dependency on PDVSA does not make me very optimistic. The measure of resistance there is to at least retain Porlamar, pick up either Barcelona or El Tigre. Success will exist only if we add either Cumana or Maturin while getting both El Tigre and Barcelona.
The election there is particularly interesting because in the latest December Governor election there seems to be very believable claims that the election was stolen. Since then social and political peace have never returned and the chavista military governor has been shown to be at the top of an impressive corruption pyramid. It is to be noted that Puerto Ordaz, the largest worker city in Venezuela went for Capriles if barely in April while the state capital Ciudad Bolivar has been steadily opposition in recent elections. Nowhere but Puerto Ordaz could illustrate better the break between chavismo and workers as these one are getting tired of so much corruption and broken promises. Gaining Puerto Ordaz, if opposition divisions are smoothed over, may be with Barquisimeto and Libertador the three biggest omens of chavismo debacle to come.
The real meaning of December 8, if we make it there as it is clear that the regime is seeking some form of confrontation to postpone the vote or hide massive cheating is not in how many town halls the opposition wins or loses, but which ones and how many votes.
The number of votes because if the opposition manages more than 50% by the CNE it would mean clearly, at least to the military that are the true rulers of the country, that maybe 60% of the country has abandoned chavismo or at the very least Maduro. If Maduro does not get 50% cheating included his days are numbered as his own people will start actively to seek ways to get rid of him.
Of course we would not know for a while the exact voting tally since there are a few dissidents on either side and on election night what people will see are how many town-halls each side got. From the rural districts, as this table hints at, there is not much to hope for: the acute dependency of these people on government grants ensure that no matter how much the opposition grows, a majority of these districts will remain chavista. Thus Maduro is almost 100% assured that on December 8 at midnight to be able to claim a victory by getting a "majority" of cities, the only thing he can use to try to gloss over an almost certain defeat on vote total.
This being said on December 9 around noon we will be able to measure the real strength of the opposition or weakness of Maduro. Since the objective of the opposition is to speed up the exit of Maduro, an objective which has sympathies inside chavismo, we need a score card along these lines.
Success: more votes than chavismo; retain Maracaibo and Caracas at large; ensure San Cristobal and 90% of districts already held; gain at least 4 out of Valencia, Maracay, Barcelona, Puerto Ordaz, Barquisimeto, Los Teques, Cumana, San Francisco; gain maybe a couple dozen of smaller ones so that at least we get one district in every state.
Triumph: at least 52% of the votes cast with chavismo pushed down to 46%; gain 6 of the list above; gain at least 3 of Valera, Barinas, Maturin, Carora, the 3 San Felipe metro together, Libertador, Guatire.
Maduro resigning conditions: a majority of districts regardless of their size as long as Libertador is included.
Why this scorecards? For the stakes at play. But this is for another post.