Saturday, December 02, 2006

How the Opposition Could Win (Or Lose)

by Alex Beech

December 2, 2006 - While the international media has predicted an easy victory for Hugo Chavez on Sunday, many respected analysts believe that Manuel Rosales has a chance of winning, given certain conditions. These would include:

- The abstention rate is high. Rosales has more "hardcore" voters than Chavez. If those "hardcore" voters who support Chavez decide to stay home, abstention would favor Rosales;

- Chavez supporters feel over-confident. The PDVSA-financed polls which gave Chavez a double-digit lead over Rosales may have a "backlash effect,"; leading Chavez supporters to believe he's going to win, and that they don't need to vote;

- Fairness prevails and fear of reprisals diminishes. The "witnesses" at the polling stations serve as a deterrent against fraud, allowing them to report problems promptly. Enough voters trust that the vote is secret, opting for the candidate of their choice.

Subtle Kinds of Fraud

The most looming issue in the election is fraud. The Chavez government has so efficiently denounced in the international media that the opposition will claim fraud that any actual and legitimate claims of fraud will now be scrutinized under pre-established filters of skepticism and politics.

Because the Chavez government controls the electoral authorities, (as has been reported by the international media), problems which have also been documented by international observers in past elections could re-surface. These include:

- The "relocation" of voters from one voting center to another, as took place in the 2004 referendum, when voters discovered they had been re-registered to vote hundreds of miles away;

- Voting centers may open late at centers located within opposition strongholds;

- Voting materials may arrive late at centers within opposition strongholds;

- The "cotillion" or voting materials may be incomplete. These would include "cuadernos electorales" or the lists of registered voters for each center, as well as indelible ink, (without it voting cannot take place), and other materials;

- Technical glitches which would slow down voting at centers located within opposition strongholds, such as malfunctioning fingerprint detection technology. (During the referendum, Chavez himself tried to use the fdt several times before placing his vote. Eventually, he was allowed to vote without it, but this may not happen at all centers.);

- Thugs, (well described and photographed in the most recent New York Times article, "As Crime Soars, Chavez Coasts") could intimidate and scare voters outside centers located within opposition strongholds;

- State media, which violated electoral laws in favor of Chavez during the campaign, may transmit "exit polls" conducted by Chavez supporters, (such as one planned by a Tupamaros group and reported by the same NYT article); these polls would inevitably give Chavez a strong lead, discouraging opposition voters from bothering to vote;

- Chavez supporters, once they've voted, could stand in line again to slow down voting; (Chavez supporters are encouraging this practice in at least one region);

- Mass public transportation could become unavailable; (in Anaco, PDVSA contracted over two hundred buses to transport only Chavistas to voting centers);

- Soldiers of the so-called "Plan Republica," whose function is to guarantee order, intimidate voters;

- The use of wireless devices to receive and send vital information from the voting PC's or machines to illegal "parallel servers" to show voting trends. On Saturday morning, an elections council official exhorted voters not to use cell phones in areas surrounding voting centers, while claiming their use was not prohibited. Why?

As Venezuelans decide on their political future on Sunday, the conditions must b present for a fair election. While the international media has already given Chavez an easy victory, reputable pollsters, such as Penn, Schoen and Berland, who polled for Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, have claimed that the candidates are in a tight race.

Only Venezuelans will choose their president on Sunday, but the international community may need to support their choice. This support will begin by denouncing any irregularities observed on Sunday.

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