I am writing this as I am listening to Górecki #3 "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs". You have been warned. (1)
The situation is simply impossible for the Venezuelan opposition electoral umbrella MUD. Now that the "dialogue" is dead and that a furious regime has imposed a deadline for an advanced presidential election on April 22 what can the MUD do? Participating would be incoherent with the dialogue since it broke on the matter of the election date that should have been December 2018 (2). Not participating is letting the field open for Maduro to be reelected with gazillions votes through a massive fraud that cannot technically be proven.
Before we walk though scenarios let us understand a few key elements.
To mount a successful campaign the opposition must breach at the very least these barriers:
- hold primaries or some nomination process that gets a single candidate that can motivate the electorate back to the poll stations
- organize a monitoring system on voting day strong enough to withstand the military pressure to commit electoral fraud in at least 3/4 of voting stations. If anything to compensate through massive voting there the fraud committed in the 25% that cannot be reached by the opposition monitors for a variety of reasons.
- quell any idiotic campaign for abstention and transform it into a unifying rally to overthrow the regime.
- be prepared for the day after.
I do not see this happening by April 22. Amen of other necessary items for winning an election.
So, can we do something?
The basic questions the MUD needs to answer within the next week are "Are we or not in a narco dictatorship? Are we willing to face it down for what it is? With all the collateral damage that this will mean." Only if we all agree on the answers to these questions do we have a chance to come up with a coherent strategy, either to win or to sabotage Maduro's happening. Next a few possible scenarios depending on how well this is understood, or accepted.
Scenario 1, the worst case scenario, the end of democracy scenario
Some inside the opposition decide to go for it against all odds. Some go abstention and cannot come up with any other strategy than staying home and wait for the Marines to land. Likely there will be several candidates, some financed by the regime itself (3). The bulk of the opposition in urban areas will refuse to go and vote (4). Maduro will be elected without having to make major fraud and with perhaps no more han 40% of the vote (5) . He can thus pretend that he is legitimately elected and we are good for him as president for life. We just pack and leave the country.
Scenario 2, the legitimization scenario
The opposition decides to run and manages to put forward a single candidate rendering minor ones irrelevant no matter how well financed they are by chavismo. However it seems very difficult that a unity candidate in such circumstances will be able to motivate people to vote. If, for example, Maria Corina Machado decides not to support the said candidate the opposition would be very hard pressed to reach 50% of the vote.
In this scenario the regime would be forced to run a harsher campaign, and go to open cheating expecting a weak opposition response. Maduro would "win" but with no more than a 55/45 lead. More would be too much and conduct to violence, maybe not on election day but surely after as the crisis gets worse.
Unfortunately the result in that scenario is that unless fraud is not promptly exposed and the MUD refuses to recognize Maduro's "victory", the final outcome would be a grudging recognition of his regime. A "pariah state light" situation which is enough for Maduro to hang in until chavismo itself decides to throw him out of office.
Scenario 3, collapse or recovery for chavismo?
An inspired united opposition candidate does manage to rally the bases. In spite of all odds s/he gets 60% of the vote. But Maduro and the illegal constituent assembly remain until January 2019. The election can simply be annulled on any ground, or through the voting of a new constitution and thus a new electoral system implying new elections.
I let you speculate on the disorders and bloodshed that would come out of that scenario. However as it is based on a motivating MUD candidate and there are only 2 months left, well, forget it! Ain't happening.
Scenario 4, the principled campaign
This last scenario is the one that should take place and, of course, in Venezuela with the MUD we have it ain't happening either. Let's walk through it anyway.
In this scenario a principled unity candidate is decided upon. One of his/her first speeches is to state that unless fair electoral conditions do not happen during the campaign this one will withdraw before election day and call for civil unrest all the way until, and on election day.
That position has the merit of being coherent with international support that is currently inclined not to recognize the result of April 22, no matter what. People will come from all over to watch the troubles, and not only journalists. Real reports will be made. Consequences will happen (6).
It has also some advantages since it does not require as much organization such as, e.g., staffing to monitor all centres, just enough to prove that there is election fraud. It is a possible way out if the MUD gets lots of support and pressure on the regime from international actors. The point here is to force the regime to commit such pre electoral fraud that indeed the election will not be recognized before the first vote is cast. In other words the MUD needs to invest all of its energy in political pressure aiming to the positive outcome that the elections are postponed and thus organized for later, on fairer terms.
The risk here is that a truly desperate regime may decide once and for all to steal the election outright, regardless of international pressure and thus willing to exert massive repression. In short whoever the opposition candidate and close assistant are they must be ready to see bullets, jail and maybe death.
So there you have it. Wrap your mind around.
1- Of course the David Zinman / Dawn Upshaw classic that I bought shortly after it came out in 1992 and never set aside.
2- Whoever is elected on April 22 cannot be sworn into office until January 2019. The advanced election date is a regime maneuver to control the election while it can still control it, before there country's total economic collapse. Whether a swearing in is possible in 2019 is of course an open question.
3- Rumored to go no matter what are Ramos Allup, Henri Falcon and some failures like Claudio Fermin. Folks like this last one will have a surprisingly well financed campaign, with more posters than actual voters.
4- Without massive voting in Caracas, Valencia, Maracaibo, Barquisimeto, Puerto Ordaz and Puerto La Cruz the opposition cannot compensate for the rest of the country where the regime blackmail for food is too entrenched for people to dare vote against the regime. Unfortunately Caracas and Valencia will have a hard time going out to vote as it is, and the prospects for the other cities are hardly better.
5- Even to reach 40%, with extended abstention, the regime will need electoral fraud such as "assisted" voting or outright blackmail. A divided opposition would leave only a viable candidate with Ramos Allup who has a more or less decent organization with his AD party in small but real recovery. But Ramos Allup has alienated some of the most motivated organizers in Venezuela, in particular those from Voluntad Popular who can claim that Ramos Allup was not sorry when VP leadership was decapitated. If Ramos Allup were to manage 40%, the regime would need to print only an extra 5% of the ballots to win. A not so difficult task when there are no international observers and no one inside polling stations to monitor.
6- For questions of time a serious electoral observation requires at the very least 3 full months work with all doors open. Thus it is not possible this time around, besides the fact that e regime refuses them anyway. The only possible observation is lots of international journalists and figures visiting. The better if they are pushed back at the borders. There is thus a need to motivate them to come and watch the repression.