Saturday, May 31, 2008

The 2008 election gambles: part 2, Chavez’s strategy

The internal elections of Chavez party, the PSUV offer a good insight into the poor democratic mindset of these people, as well as the authoritarian character of Chavez. Tal Cual today devotes a full article on this. We learn that the 5039 “aspiring candidates” have until midnight to convince their co-believers. That is, the primary campaign did not even last a month. This, as many districts had more than a dozen “aspirators” (115 just for Caracas mayor). On Sunday they hope to get a million folks casting ballots even though the PSUV claims more than 5 million militants, which makes anyone wonder as to how uncommitted are chavista militants….

Yet, so far so good, one would say. But when we read how the candidates will eventually become officially nominated things do not look so good. According to Tal Cual, no matter how many votes you get, the three top vote getters in a given circumscription are brought to Chavez. Because to be elected you need 50% +1 vote AND at least 15% more votes than whomever trails you. Otherwise it is Chavez who decides who gets the nod.

You might still say,” well, you know, they need to make sure that no moles get inside the PSUV”. But then you learn that the results will not be made public. Yes, that is right, we will not know who got what votes, we will get Chavez himself on June 5 inform us, in cadena I presume, the happy winners. In conclusion, if Chavez does not like you, you can only be reasonably sure to win the nomination if you get about 60% of the vote, assuming that Chavez would not dare to go against such a lopsided result.

Thus we have our pre-taste of the November elections: Chavez will do all that is within his reach to stop any one disagreeing with him to reach a local elected position. Significant cheating and fraud can be expected. How can we thus discuss a Chavez electoral strategy? Well, very simply by separating what he is already doing and what he started doing and will probably do. This separation is not that specious: chavismo has already been cheating significantly in previous elections (1). The thing is that now that Chavez is in trouble he will need to do more than what he has done so far to retain as much power as possible. Open cheating is, this time, expected.

What Chavez has been doing

This part is very simple to discuss. I will just list the main items with a brief reminder. Any additional information can be searched for in the extensive electoral archives of this blog or elsewhere.

The CNE irregularities. These are many and range from very questionable electoral rolls to an astounding permissiveness in turning a blind eye to the government electoral abuses, in particular the financial ones. These taken together give a bonus edge to chavismo that I can estimate at anything between 5 to 10% of the votes, something that becomes crucial with local elections that can be decided with handful of votes.

Judicial silence. The judicial system of Venezuela is now closely controlled by chavismo. Thus if you introduce any recourse against any tasteless or fraudulent electoral practice, the TSJ will reply to you, if at all, AFTER the election. Some times years after. Many contentious cases of the 2000 elections have yet to be settled…

Media abuse. At election time Chavez increases dramatically the use of cadenas. That is, under the flimsiest of excuses he commandeers ALL TV emissions, AND ALL radio emissions for a speech or activity that lasts as long as he wants. True, he tries to avoid the mention of words such as “election” “vote” “candidate X”, but he is very skilled at innuendos so that these cadenas become basically political campaign. Meanwhile the opposition has little or no access to state media, even to run paid political adds. There is also another aspect to it: state media cover most chavista electoral events as if they were news, for hours in a row if necessary, while the scantiest of opposition coverage is only shown when international observers are in town. Just last night, for example, VTV covered for hours the closing PSUV campaign in Anzoategui, Chavez speech included

Money, money. This is of course the biggest carrot and stick of all. At election time public coffers and PSUV coffers lose any distinction. Public employees are expected to miss their jobs so as to make bulk at diverse electoral activities. The PSUV has yet to release any detailed report on its electoral activities and from where they got all the huge amount of money they spend. And these funds also cover booze, t-shorts, fire works and the like. I personally watched 4 years ago when Chavez came to support now disgraced Gimenez for the Yaracuy State House how someone was buying half a dozen generators in cash to power the meeting loud speakers. I do not know if you know how much an electric generator costs but paying half a dozen in cash was quite an impressive feat. I have wondered on occasion where these generators ended up… By the way, the law conveniently forbids the state to finance electoral campaigns so the opposition can never match in this wildest dreams what the government steals form public coffers for its own campaigns, and even less the possibility to request an investigation to be opened (see above).

Safe candidates. We saw this already on how the PSUV is proceeding to elect its folks. 4 years ago there was not even such a pretense: all candidates were directly named by Chavez or through a commission set by him. Still, Chavez in four years has managed to run afoul of several figures: Carabobo’s Acosta, Monagas’s Briceño, Caracas ‘s Barreto, are among the ones that are barred from reelection by the PSUV and will need to run on their own if they pretend to regain their office. The case of Briceño though is special and he might still get the nod. But others who had clear pretensions had a hard time in being accepted by Chavez, the most interesting case being Falcon in Lara. Initial attempts at barring him form running failed when polls were considered and he threatened to run no matter what. Suddenly Chavez electoral henchmen pretended to have picked him. This time around Chavez seeks ever more control. He seeks to compensate for the refusal of the constitutional reform last December which would have accelerated centralization. Now he will name the most faithful of the faithful to make sure that they will let themselves be spoiled of their local roles and perks as Chavez needs to take these roles over, centralizing all in Caracas.

What Chavez will need to do

Since all of the above (and a few other tricks) are apparently not enough to ensure a landslide, a new set of artifacts have been added.

Control who runs inside the opposition. From the many political fights and dramas of this past decade a new generation of leaders have risen. True, they might not be good enough or heavy weighty enough to challenge Chavez for national office, yet. But they certainly can challenge most of the chavista mediocrities that were put in place 4 years ago. For example all polls in Caracas put Leopoldo Lopez as a shoo in. But Caracas is something that Chavez cannot afford to lose, pride wise. So chavismo came up with a scheme inspired from countries which practice it regularly: disbarment of sorts (Russia, Iran, Belarus…). In short, using a contradiction between an organic law (those who require special voting rules) and the constitution, the ultimate enabler of the regime, the one who all but officially sponsors corruption, has decided that at least 400 people are not eligible for office. I just posted something that explains this in detail so no need to go deeper into this, except to stress once again that according to article 42 only a judicial sentence can remove political rights from a citizen, and Clodosvaldo actions ARE NOT a judicial sentence, at least if we are to believe the chavista fable that there is a separation of powers in Venezuela.

Accepting “approximate” electoral results. An extremely grave precedent has been made last December: at this typing we do not know for sure what the exact result of the referendum of December 2 was (2). The CNE uses the lamest of excuses: “the final result will not be affected anyway, the NO won”. This is so wrong on so many levels that one does not know where to start. Is the CNE that incompetent? What are they hiding? How can any political party come up with electoral strategies if the votes are not well counted? When comes November the election of Governor X shows a “positive trend” for his victory, should we accept this as good enough? Then again it seems that for chavismo this is not a problem: the PSUV internal elections results will not be published altogether, as explained at the start of this post. Now, EVEN if we assumed that a case could be made for incomplete result publication for a national referendum where the trend is clear, how could we ever accept that for the election of a small town mayor which might be decided with a handful of votes? It is easy to imagine all the controversy that will happen when local elections results are contested next November with a CNE that will make it impossible for the self proclaimed victim to go to courts to settle the issue. The potential for mischief and discouragement of this situation has not been exploited yet, but be sure that chavismo is ready to make the most out of it.

Outright cheating. I am placing this as a new category because there are now so many ways that the government and Chavez through the CNE have used to cheat indirectly that the temptation for outright electoral rigging will be very difficult to resist. Outright cheating under Chavez has been widely suspected and, as far as I am concerned, proven. However there is one thing that has made it impossible to pursue this until the very end: the refusal of the opposition political parties to make a stand on that issue. This is something that has been often decried in this blog when complaining about the opposition political parties: in an election there was cheating or there was not. If there was cheating, it is the duty of political parties to go until the bitter end to fight it. If they cannot prove it, or if chavismo indeed won a given election, THEN the opposition political establishment must accept the result. It is the failure of opposition leaders to submit to this litmus test that has been, in my opinion, the main cause to the still large abstention movement that has wrecked so much damage for the opposition at election time. Indeed, it is disheartening to vote for folks that have no backbone, that will not defend the vote you cast for them. Watching this sorry spectacle for the past 4 years will be the main inducement for chavismo to finally cross the line of outright cheating. Why should they fear for a strong response if outright cheating is only observed at some key places that chavismo deems vital, such as placing Mario Silva in Carabobo? Why should not chavismo bet that if they hand to the opposition 4 or 5 states they will accept to be robbed of 2 or 3 states?

The campaign theme.

Notice that I did not even put the plural in the subtitle above. The easiest part of this post to write is precisely this: what platform will Chavez chose to run on, or rather, demand his candidates to run on?

Right off the bat we know what he will not run on: states and cities right. The failed constitutional reform was meant to abolish regional organizations through atomization of the power structure so as to make it totally dependent of the central government grants. A new form of centralization, and an effective gutting of popular power. Thus none of the candidates promoted by chavismo will unfurl the banner of local particularism, they will all run on their support to Chavez and the need for the region to vote for them to ensure that Caracas will favor them. Any local project will be promoted with something like “if you want this, then you need to vote for me otherwise Caracas will never give you the credits for that”. It will be more subtly stated but I can assure you that he message will be crystal clear for the masses.

But if the local masses still have any doubt Chavez has already set to work on clarifying any doubt. His main and unique campaign slogan so far is that voting for the opposition is voting against him, is voting for the evil empire, is voting against the revolution and thus “no volveran!” is the cri du jour. How chavistas will convince Cocorote voters to vote for their man if not the Marines will land on helicopter at Cocorote empty fields to set a base and go on overthrowing Chavez remains to be seen, but that is the strategy that Chavez will use. After all he has no choice: 4 years controlling of all but two states and more than two thirds of town halls have demonstrated what a sorry lot we gave us 4 years ago. The record cannot be defended and it is better to pretend that all were traitors to begin with, that we must start anew form scratch with this time true revolutionaries and that we must unite against Colombia and the US. As a primal theme of campaign it is difficult to fall any lower. Will the country be stupid enough to fall for it? Will Chavez avoid the extraordinary cross over tendency of Venezuelans when they vote at the local level? (3)

We will see, but the gamble has been set by Chavez. Now the question is what the opposition will do about it.

PD: the fist installment of this overview of the November election can be found here. It would help to read it if you do not understand some of the stuff written here, as I do try to avoid repetitiveness. In a few days I will write on the opposition and my first predictions for November.

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1) The last election that has been accepted by all without question has been the December 1998 vote who gave us now 10 years of curse. Every other election has been questioned either as far as it legality or its conduction or its results, not forgetting “all of the above”.

2) At this typing, not a single result from at any Venezuelan embassy has been reported on the web page of the CNE. One could perhaps argue that some ballots were lost at some distant location. but how come that 6 months after the vote the results of Miami consulate are not known? There is no excuse.

3) 2004 regional elections were run under the cloud of the failed recall election bid, as huge chunks of opposition voters staid home. It is thus more useful to go back to the 200o elections. Then many states gave a victory to Chavez while electing by a similar margin an opposition candidate for governor. This year election will see a much more combative opposition and a much discredited chavista political class while Chavez will not be on the ballot. The cross voting tradition might make a stunning come back.

-The end-

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