Monday, May 08, 2006

The problems in the Venezuelan electoral system (part 2)

The Tascon list and its effect on running a campaign

The Tascon list now the Maisanta program

During the Recall Election process of 2003-2004 the Chavez administration, under the direction of Assemblyman Luis Tascon, came up with a system to intimidate public sector workers into voting for Chavez at Referendum time. This device consisted in gathering, courtesy of the CNE that should have never provided this information, the names and ID numbers of all of those who signed to request a recall election on Chavez tenure. This has been well documented and can be seen in the documentary La Lista which shows clearly that Chavez had full knowledge of the existence of that list and what it was used for (Spanish version here).

Sure enough, this new McCarthy like list became the source for all sorts of abuses, coercions, firing, threats and what not. It has been duly recognized outside Venezuela by such folks as the European Union electoral observation mission, and diverse important civil right organizations. In fact, one could argue that the situation was so unbelievable in the XXI century for a self declared democracy that it took some time for people to become aware of the Venezuelan situation. This exposure has been further delayed since the pro Chavez Venezuelan judicial system refused to cooperate in countering such a basic civil right abuse such as the violated secret of vote. The inability to seek redress led many of the victims to shut up and try to rebuild their lives in other ways.

Unfortunately in spite of Chavez declarations as to stop the use of the Tascon list, which turned out to be yet new lies, the list has not only not been discontinued but has evolved into the Maisanta program which includes now all sorts of additional information from ALL Venezuelan voters, be they pro or anti Chavez citizens. Now, when you enter your ID number in the program (it has become a computer program that deals with the database) you can read your name, your address, your voting districts, whether you signed against Chavez, whether you signed against opposition assemblymen, whether you participate in some of the social programs called “Misiones” which supposedly indicate a pro Chavez posture, whether you voted in August 2005 or staid home (abstention is considered as a mark of weak support for Chavez if not outright opposition and your stay and benefits in a Mision might be challenged if you did not vote in 2005, including your public servant job if you hold one). I was told that the December 2005 electoral result is now incorporated which means that the 15% hard core that voted for Chavez is now fully identified and that they are now the superior caste of Venezuelan society.

With the Maisanta program the government disposes of a tool which creates a political discrimination, very short from an outright apartheid, which can be used to deny any service from the government that this one wishes to deny to punish you from not supporting Chavez.

Blocking citizen participation

It is easy to deduct the implications of such a vicious breach of privacy implied in the existence of a discrimination tool such as the Maisanta program. The first victim, at least in my opinion, are pollsters. Since August 2004 polls have stopped making sense in Venezuela as people simply declare open support to Chavez, just in case. Imagine a pollster going to the shanty towns of Caracas to establish a voting pattern in the 40% of the population that most depends on chavista hand outs. Picture yourself that chavismo through its misiones has established quite a network that is meant to monitor people, not unlike the Committee to defend the Cuban Revolution. Now, can you imagine that an anti Chavez inhabitant of this area will dare to state his opposition to Chavez? If you are still not convinced, look at the latest Keller Poll discussed next.

Keller is considered, at least by this blogger, as the most serious pollster in Venezuela these days. In his latest survey he rates things from Chavez endearing qualities to what people are thinking he is solving. Observe the decreasing numbers favoring Chavez and how strange gaps appear:

I like Chavez: 63%
I will vote for Chavez: 57%
Chavez is solving the poverty problem: 30% (Not!: 40%)
Chavez is solving the cost of living problem: 28% (Not!: 42%)
Chavez is solving the corruption problem: 22% (Not!: 39%)
Chavez is solving the crime problem: 12% (Not!: 67%)

How is it possible that 57% are planning to vote for Chavez and yet there are at most 30% satisfied customers?

But then Keller makes an “average” and we see that if 57% are planning to vote for Chavez, only 24% think he is solving the nation’s problems and 47% think he is making things worse! That is 4% more than those who say they will not vote for Chavez? Masochism? Or plain fear? This seems to give a new meaning to political dysfunction as there is no rational explanation in such results except that there is a problem in the measuring tool.

I think that this particular poll illustrates the real problem: as long as there is no alternative in the horizon people prefer to stick with Chavez or pretend to stick with him.

But there is another perverse effect. Once upon a time in Venezuela it was OK for yourself to declare who you were going to vote for. Supporting a political party was not a problem at least inside the private sector and the lower positions of the bureaucracy. Now, if you are a public servant you cannot state your divergences with the chavista pseudo ideology. Yes, some ministries are still reasonably spared the political persecution, but even at the SENIAT or at the Educational ministries that were relatively spared of the Tascon witch hunt, people that I know there told me that now participation in chavista marches is compulsory as attendance is required. Can you imagine a public servant singing up as a voluntary in the campaign of an opposition candidate?

The consequence of that is an added burden on opposition candidates that have more trouble in following polls to organize their campaign and trouble in staffing their campaign as people do not want to go on record as supporting the opposition in case Chavez is more than likely reelected.

Blocking financing of the opposition parties

And what about financing the opposition campaigns? There are two basic problems, besides the huge financial advantage of Chavez with the national treasure as his petty cash.

The 1999 constitution removed financing by the state of political parties (article 67). This was of course deliberately done by chavismo who by December 31 1999 had secured full basic control of the country. As of early 2000 the judicial system and account controlling systems where solidly controlled by Chavez and no further inquiry into the use of public funds for his campaigns would be performed. The opposition parties had to find ways to raise money. When you see at what is happening to SUMATE for a meager 55,000 NED donation, you can easily imagine that donors would become weary, outside of Venezuela or inside Venezuela for that matter. Because, let’s not fool ourselves, the only way to get funds is through foreign donors as only they can counter the huge state expenditures in favor of Chavez. Not to mention that chavismo is receiving lots of foreign “electoral” help from Cuba or from registering foreign nationals in the electoral registry… Who in Venezuela will call against foreign help to Chavez when this one can screen through banks to check out who is receiving what from where?

As for local financing, at home the situation is rather dramatic. The government now has reasonable access to private individuals transactions, gained under the pretext of tax evasion and detection of drug traffic money laundering. Thus it is safe to assume that most of the big donors, say, above 1,000 USD equivalent, will be easily traced. Such amounts are usually given to PAC bank accounts and thus traceable. Can you imagine what will happen to these people, under the Maisanta apartheid, once Chavez wins again in December?

The only way that the opposition candidates can get the kind of funding that a presidential campaign requires is through “secret” accounts overseas where Venezuelan nationals in a position to give a few thousand dollars can deposit through intermediaries without their names going on record. In other words chavismo is forcing people to go “underground” exposing them to legal problems once he is reelected if he can track down opponents. And small donors, well, they will have to do everything in cash, anonymously.

Conclusion 2

The effect of the discriminatory Tascon/Maisanta list is to pervert any rational organization of electoral campaign. To already politically debilitated opposition parties, the possibility of Chavez to exact revenge on his major opponents once the elections are over is a deterrent enough to limit organization of a serious campaign and its adequate funding. Not only the secret of vote is seriously compromised in Venezuela, but the freedom of political association is, by indirect but real and very effective ways. It is crucial that international observers are continuously made aware of this so as to judge adequately the fairness of any election that might be held this coming December.

(RETURN to entry post)

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