Of all the victories of the opposition, for me this is the sweetest. Not because I am a neighbor subjected to the worse of chavismo, but because I am not sure people quite understand the magnitude of transforming what once upon a time one of the strongest of the strongholds of chavismo. In 2004 chavismo got 86 % of the votes. Sunday the opposition got its first clear, unambiguous victory with 52% for Ramos to 46% for Bohorquez. Chavismo went from an advantage of 79 points to a defeat by 6 points.
Interestingly Ramos won Sunday but he also was the loser in 2004, getting then only 6.9% of the vote. Clearly Ramos is not the most glamorous of candidates and he needed 9 years to grow. But grow he did, maybe on the coat tails of Falcon who is the main architect of the switching of the state, but on some merits too since he did win his primary in 2012.
Why chavismo plummeted so badly? It is too easy to blame it only on mistakes by chavismo. Reyes Reyes was an idiotic governor, a nepotistic one who forced Falcon final exit from chavismo by trying to impose his even more idiotic son Jonas. Before leaving Falcon had a compromise of sorts with chavismo to have a certain Amalia Saez as mayor of Barquisimeto elected in 2008 though that time, Ramos again the candidate got 41%. But Amalia had no political instinct and too readily squared behind Chavez when he decreed unpopular measures against Barquisimeto assuming he could take the city for granted. Even if its people were hurt by his actions they would still love their comandante. In 2012 Chavez paid the price and lost in Barquisimeto with only 47%.
But the true mistakes of chavismo come from elsewhere. Lara by backing so strongly Chavez at first expected a lot. And chavismo did not deliver. Maybe they took the state for granted and preferred "investing" in populism elsewhere first. Maybe simply they had no idea what to do about Lara, an austere state of serious musicians and scrapping peasants who know that nothing is a given when you live in an arid land. Finally, loyal Amalia was trashed a few weeks before the end of her mandate which certainly alienated a few faithful, amen of having being bypassed for reelection in favor of a military, Bohorquez, which seems to me quite loutish. Lara is not really a military loving land and if Reyes Reyes was a favorite son for a while it was due to his belonging to Chavez inner circle more than anything else.
But Sunday result also reminds us of a nasty chavista treachery. Among the panoply of electoral fraud devices used by chavismo there is gerrymandering. And stunningly Ramos will have a minority in his municipal council EVEN THOUGH the opposition has also an ample lead in vote count. The "voto lista" is the barometer to decide how many votes a given party has in a district. In that vote, cast independently from the mayor vote, you pick a list that will send up to three "proportional representation" seats. The wise reader knows already that proportional representation in a list only starts making sense when you have at least 10 people to be elected. With only 3 it is a gross excuse to justify creation of a strictly winner-take-all system. Except that in chavista Venezuela gerrymandering ensures that the winner does not take all if it is the opposition. The opposition got 51.5% of party votes while chavismo got 44.0%. And yet chavismo will hold 8 seats against 5 for the opposition. In other words, with 44% of the votes chavismo gets 62% of the seats.
Valencia is in a way a story of missed opportunities, personal rivalries exacerbated to a point of preferring chavistas to rule rather than people from your side. I have named the Salas ruling family who had no qualm in 2008 to go divided for Valencia resulting in the chavista victory. The new mayor, Parra, apparently lost no time in establishing the usual corrupt network of quick riches, made easier as Valencia disposes of its own significant tax base. But he run afoul of the new governor of Carabobo, Ameliach, a Chavez crony, of the type that likes all corruption and business to run around his own sun. Parra was promptly arrested three month ago, a new mayor appointed and a ferocious series of threats launched against the opposition candidate, the one that lost barely in 2008 because of the Salas rivalry, Cocchiola, the past CEO of giant construction material IMECA, currently under fiscal attack by the regime.
In spite of all the threats, and his own mistakes, Cocchiola won with 54% against the Ameliach candidate protege, a certain Flores who got only 44%. You would think that such a smashing victory would be the end of the story? No. Part gerrymandering, part resentment of some Salas followers, part opposition division with an obscure "ecologist list", Cocchiola will not have a majority in the council and will have a chavista group, teleprompted from Ameliach to sabotage as much as possible the rule of Cocchiola. In the voto lista, see above, the MUD got only 44.2% while chavismo retained its percentage with 43.7%. Enough to give them, gerrymandering courtesy, a large blocking majority. I am sure that the 5% of ecologist who voted in the dissident council list will be ecstatic at the environmental concerns of the new chavista majority....
My third showcase district is Guasdualito in the Eastern part of Apure state, on the crucial border with Colombia of the Arauca river. How chavismo lost that district is a tale of heroism and proof that even its more fervent followers can get sick and tired of the regime's abuse.
The election of a courageous woman, Lumay Barreto in what is a machista area of the country, one overrun with smuggling to Colombia, Colombian guerrilla, and all sorts of unsavory people is almost miraculous. Not to mention that the local electoral council tried to find ways to miraculously make the chavista candidate win, forcing Barreto to wait for 15 hours of political pressure.
.@LumayBarreto espero 15 horas frente a la Junta Electoral en Guasdualito, el pueblo defendio la @VoluntadPopular constitucioinalmente![sic]
— Leopoldo López (@leopoldolopez) December 12, 2013
Lumay Barreto waited for 15 hours in front of the election Junta of Guasdualito, el pueblo defended the popular will [Voluntad Popular tweet punt]of consituionally
What made her victory possible? First, the exhaustion of the locals who only need to cross a bridge to Colombia to see markets full of goods when in Venezuela scarcity abounds and made probably worse in that district as contraband empties the Venezuelan shelves to benefit the smugglers associated with the local military more busy in getting rich than chasing drug traffickers and Colombian guerrilla. Second, Leopoldo Lopez and Voluntad Popular personal involvement in that area for years, from Lopez first stunning visits to locales like El Nula. In Guasdalito lots of risky foot work paid off. In addition chavismo went divided but so did the opposition, thus it is even.
Whatever it is, when the opposition has a clear strategy and the will to apply it, it can reach the voter. If Guasdualito is a poster district of this, Barquisimeto is another example and Valencia the counter example.