It has been now one month and a half that Hugo Chavez had made his constitutional proposal. Time to review briefly where we are standing.
Cold facts for chavismo
The most perturbing fact for chavismo is that the poll numbers are not what they were expecting them to be. With a comatose opposition and supposedly a sky high popular Chavez, all serious polls coincide in that the proposal of Chavez is not stirring any enthusiasm in the crowds even though these might not be ready to break up with him yet.
I am not going into the details of the polls, it is still too early yet, and more importantly all polls exhibit an acknowledgment by most of the people that they have no idea what the proposals are all about. In practical terms that means that pollsters are discovering that most people do not like such things as unlimited reelection of limitations of private property. They even find that the sweet deals thrown in to bribe the electors such as the 30 hours week (6 hours a day max in a country that works mostly 5 days a week) are not generating much enthusiasm. The hoi polloi smelling a rat? Whatever it is, Chavez today has announced that he was not opposed to some modifications to this original proposal. His polls must not be too good.
However they also find that a majority of those who have decided to vote are inclined to vote for Chavez, EVEN if they have no idea on what the constitutional change is all about. In other words, a time of anguish for chavismo who is even trying to bring the vote up to the first Sunday of December, if possible. Chavismo is not willing to take chances, to let people finally get around reviewing the proposals and realize that they suck big time. Obviously this is the part of the polls message that chavismo is getting loud and clear: the more people know about the “reforma” the less they like it.
That is even more perturbing as the opposition seems to be still comatose and when some of its erstwhile allies are about to start campaigning for the NO at any time. From what I have written a few weeks ago in as series of post, the reader will remember that it is not enough for Chavez to win, he needs to win convincingly. With a 52 to 48 victory his position outside of Venezuela would be compromised and the country will become even harder to rule. You cannot impose such a tough constitutional reform when 48% of the people are against it. This is the royal road toward major social trouble. If Chavez wants to sleep tight at night, and wants to have time to cultivate his international image he needs, without any cheating, a 60% victory with less than 40% abstention. Nothing less than that will do. And he is not getting it so far.
Certainly some folks would argue that Chavez does not care, that he presides over a government of thugs and that he only needs to win by one vote, even if 90% of the country does not bother voting. That would work for a presidential or parliamentarian election, but a new constitution cannot be voted, cannot work if half of the country opposes it. History books are littered with failed constitutions that were voted without a good enough consensus.
The comatose opposition
The opposition is barely breathing. Yes, whatever is left of it, Primero Justicia and Nuevo Tiempo are trying strategies to at least show to the world how undemocratic Chavez and his lackeys are. But that is pretty much all. If it were not through the limited coverage of Globovision, and some newspapers, you would hear or read very little on how bad the constitutional proposals are.
But there is a debate and mysteriously the word is spreading. People are aware of what is going on even if their alleged leaders seem on occasion wishy-washy about it. For those that have followed the first articles commented in the constitutional project published at “Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform” it should be clear that the time of niceties is over and that a militant and clear speaking opposition is needed. Certainly, on the surface, the “reforma” does little more than make constitutional all the violations that Chavez has been doing since the year 2000. So, why worry? Well, read again something like the comment on Article 11, just to name one, and see how far Chavez will be legally allowed to go.
Considering that we already know that there will be no international observers for this referendum, one would think that if the opposition political parties are not leading the debate, they would at least try to get enough people to monitor the polling centers this December. A treacherous CNE certainly requires close monitoring. But , as far as this blogger is concerned, it seems like the opposition parties are not aware that an election is coming. This paradoxically could be good as I was writing a few weeks ago that there was a need for the civil society, NGO, students and other folks to lead the debate against Chavez. But the ones that supposedly have the skill to coordinate the electoral activities are still the political parties; and of this activity I see little so far.
But there is a reason behind that catatonic state: the eternal debate between abstention and participation is rearing its ugly head again. As I have said long ago, the opposition political leadership has only itself to blame for that since on the morning of August 16 2004 it screamed fraud and then never investigated it, attending all the subsequent electoral activities as if nothing. In politics this is not forgiven easily: either there was fraud and that issue should have been pursued to its last consequences, or there was not fraud and that case the opposition should have acknowledged its defeat and examine the reasons. But such introspection has been eluding the opposition leaders ever since 2004 which explains simply why so many who oppose Chavez do not want to vote for the opposition leadership either.
At any rate, whether abstention or voting is the appropriate strategy for next December is something that should not be discussed yet. Maybe starting November 15 depending on how things go. But right now the only thing gained by the abstention camp is to demobilize all efforts. That is right, discussing abstention so early only plays into Chavez hands. As far as I have been able to see, no abstention promoter is coming out with a serious plan for after the voting day. Nothing, zilch, nada. Not that the pro vote guys are offering much better, but at least they are placing themselves in the path of democracy and an eventual political reconstruction. But the abstention camp still thinks that by staying home they will unseat Chavez. Though they will not even seat home as they will go to the malls, to the beach or whatever.
Still, there is one guy that passes for abstentionist but who at least has a fresher approach: Hernan Escarra. In his opinion it is not a matter to go to vote or not, it is a matter to stop the referendum from taking place, not voting been only one of the tools for that. Hernan Escarra at least is showing enough gall to even put his life at stake by calling for massive civil disobedience through article 350 of the constitution.
But I am not too pessimistic. Chavismo is having so many obvious internal problems with that “reforma” that amazingly the opposition is still on time to take advantage of them. At this point I am not willing to waste more time in suggestions: I have come to realize that the Venezuela opposition so called leaders at this point still have no idea who they are dealing with. They do not seem to know that Chavez is just the chief of a band of thugs and should be dealt as such. And they have not realized that the opposition voter is tired of Rosales and Borges and Petkoff who have lost the recent battles. It might be unfair to blame them for that but no one ever said that politics were fair. What people perceive in Borges and, in particular, with the rather pathetic case of Rosales, is that they are clinging to positions that they do not realize they have lost long ago. Instead of shepherding new blood they are doing what the Adecos did all their lives, block new leadership. They should look at what happened to AD.
But I digress. There is one good thing for the opposition in spite of all of its errors: the text of the “reforma” is so bad, the revulsion is slowly but surely reaching so many people that we are set for possible surprises, even a postponement of the vote on the referendum! In fact if Chavez wants to force the issue in December it could backfire badly for him in most unpredictable ways. PODEMOS to Borges suddenly finding agreement in a massive abstention which would make null any electoral result? A portion of the opposition deciding to protest on election day? A sudden civil movement that all of Chavez CNE driven fraud is unable to stop from voting NO?
There are things that even “mision” money, abundant as it might be, cannot buy. The 6 hours work day is a poor argument in a country where 50% of the people work outside of normal channels. A new promise of social security sounds hollow after 9 years in office. Other abstract changes such as the “new power geometry” are scary because difficult to understand while showing Chavez personal ambition. Also, people can accept a National Assembly elected by less of 20% of the voters but not a constitution. A meaningless victory would weaken Chavez within his camp, a camp who will realize on December 10 that it is the main target of many of these proposed “reforms”. And thus all dangers become possible.