Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Venezuelan Regional elections of 2004: Chavez is undone in Zulia

The Zulia chavista disaster

As expected Zulia was the big failure of Chavez. The only surprise was that the candidate that he appointed himself, General Gutierrez, did manage to get 44% of the vote. Serious observers thought he would barely get a third! But there is probably nothing that a little bit of Electoral Registry tampering and Yellow Dog chavismo cannot solve. Still, with the dramatic personal effort of Chavez in Zulia, the vote buying, the unbelievable partiality of the CNE towards Chavez, the fraud, the insults and threats to sitting Governor Rosales, this one managed a 54%. But before trying to understand what happened in Zulia let’s look first at the results, assuming as usual that the CNE results do bear resemblance with reality. The number of votes is expressed in rounded units of thousands. The total REP on the lower right with the abstention numbers. Zulia was above average in voting but not great.

Zulia GovernorZulia list
MAS80.9%MAS coalition233.4%
Total Coalition48454%Total opposition37653%
SI vote53146.6%% governor vote78%
Vote drop8,9%
MVR21023.5%MVR coalition22232.2%
Podemos505.5%% governor vote55,8%
Total Coalition39844.4%
NO vote60553%Total REP1 772
Vote drop34,2%Abstention47.7%

The Rosales vote

I have detailed the composition of the coalition that supported Rosales, from Primero Justicia that did not do as expected in Zulia to UNTC which is Rosales own political party, which he founded after leaving a sclerotic AD in 1999. Note that AD did support Rosales in Zulia though its 6.5% is rather paltry. Copei who used to be quite strong in Zulia is barely above MPJ. MAS, one in the socialist tradition of Zulia, has been nearly wiped out.

What is more notable about the Rosales vote is that in spite of everything, he manages to recover almost all of the SI vote of August 15, one of the very few areas where this is observed. He only loses 8.9 % of the SI votes (Vote drop compared to the Recall Election in purple).

The Gutierrez vote

There is also a coalition supporting him. What is most notable is that MVR is rather weak not even reaching 25%, probably one of the lowest if not the lowest MVR score in the country! PODEMOS seems to have gathered the ex-MAS vote but still, is weak. And as a curiosity I point out the communist party vote which in Zulia managed a 4.5 % result.

The vote loss as to the August Recall Election is spectacular: one in three NO voters stayed home! This in spite of all of Chavez visits, and his atrocious campaign pressure and vote buying! Backfiring?

The legislative vote

On the individual district votes Rosales did a strong clean sweep and will have a decent majority to rule Zulia for four years. I only detail the list results because the different parties supporting Rosales went solo with their own list, showing in a way that their support for Rosales was due to the fact that they knew he would win more than by any love they might have for him. And also because we can evaluate better their relative strength.

AD and Copei lose votes though curiously MPJ gains some! The MAS coalition fares better but it included La Causa R, once very strong in Zulia but now all gone to MVR. As routine in these type results Rosales party does loses some voters from its governor votes but still manages a better percentage overall, one thing that was also observed in Yaracuy and elsewhere. A probable indication of a decent local machinery operating on election day and real identification of the people with the local leadership.

The MVR did also go as a coalition, probably sensing weakness. Still, its result is dismal! It does not even get 56% of the governor votes while the divided opposition list total still manage a 78% of Rosales vote! Apparently chavismo has trouble setting its electoral machinery in some states.

What happened in Zulia?

The explanation is actually quite simple: Chavez hubris did him in.

Zulianos have always been feeling that they are taken for granted by the rest of Venezuela. Indeed for a few decades until the oil fields of the East became important, Zulia was the cash cow of Venezuela, financing the political system at Zulia’s expense. At least past administrations were always careful to court Zulianos while robbing them. But this stopped under Chavez. His populist style, his man of the people approach does not work in Zulia. Already at the height of his popularity in 2000 he barely carried Zulia! His lack of understanding of the Zulia spirit is well documented as he has accumulated gaffe after faux pas in his all too numerous visits to the area. In other words Chavez wants his revolution to roll over Zulia, the most regionalist state in Venezuela. And it is not working. People there simply resent that Chavez is using all of their money for his own promotion, and the corruption of his friends. It is all quite simple, really.

Already during the Recall Election campaign Rosales was drawing gigantic rallies while Chavez was limiting himself to close spaces appearances, avoiding the streets of Zulia. Zulia, Yaracuy and Miranda were the only 3 states where the SI was supposed to win without a problem, Zulia in particular. When the NO won in Zulia it raised quite a few eyebrows. Talk of massive August fraud in Zulia run rampant. It seems that the Gutierrez results indeed prove that if there is one state where there was fraud it was Zulia.

But Chavez did manage to add more errors to his strategy. He imposed General Gutierrez who is a nincompoop. That imposed nomination upset quite a few local chavista leaders and it seems that only the Yellow Dog chavistas did go and vote, many “normal chavistas” preferring to stay home. Even at the level of local districts chavismo did not fare well, barely retaining Maracaibo. Its mayor, Di Martino, was the first choice for Chavez but he declined in spite of all the pressure from Chavez who seems to have threatened him of refusing even the Maracaibo nomination. But Di Martino is from Zulia and Chavez is not, Di Martino listens to the locals, Chavez does not (not that he listens to anyone for that matter, but that is another topic). Di Martino knew better than facing Rosales and must be quite relived to have retained his city! Not to mention that he got 30 000 more votes than Gutierrez in Maracaibo proving to Chavez that he got it all wrong.

The lesson is simple: the Chavez style has its limits and when faced properly he can be defeated. Eventually his arrogance will become more and more tiring to his followers. And Rosales is not even a charismatic leader! But Zulianos are not crazy folks in spite of their folksy ways, perhaps the state with the biggest entrepreneur spirit in Venezuela. And Rosales does understand that and knows how to show respect to his people. Something that Chavez is simply unable to do.

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