Monday, August 11, 2008

Of the uselesness of recall elections: Venezuela 2004, Bolivia 2008

Today Bolivia wasted precious time and resources in an electoral campaign that has solved nothing. All those that mattered won, no one punched down the other side and the country is in fact more divided than ever. Just as in Venezuela the Recall Election of 2004 solved nothing, allowing Chavez to retain office and unleash on the country the most corrupt and inefficient government of our democratic history. That is, assuming that Chavez is a democratic government which is something that has been questionable for quite a while. In both cases I squarely put the blame on the system of recall elections which after the example of Bolivia today is proven a useless system for our Latin cultural approach to politics. But first each result.

Bolivia 2008

The results are pretty much as expected. Evo Morales and his vice retain power with an increased percentage from 2005. But with a country more divided than ever. Indigenous people of the Altiplano voted massively for their man, no matter what, but the mixed races low land, at the heart of Bolivia economy voted against Morales. In fact, tensions were so bad that Morales at the end could not campaign there (not that the low-lands governor could campaign in the Altiplano for that matter...). So Morales seems to have gained over 60% of the votes but today he cannot travel in half of the country.

But even his own victory in the Altiplano has already the seeds of his future problems: the Oruro Prefect (kind of governor) also on the ballot apparently lost. And yet he was a man of Morales, who carried Oruro without problems. Thus we can already see the same pattern than in Venezuela, the pro-Morales vote is an emotional one whose coattails do not seem to work very well. In fact, interestingly, all could be happy as even those who lost got MORE votes than in 2005.

Even his own improvement in the Altiplano, revoking the Prefect of La Paz, is not necessarily a good long term prospect. To begin with Paredes was elected with a minority vote, and became an accidental opponent. Clearly, as soon as the Recall Election was called for he knew he was doomed, that his chances were null. Yet he did get close to 40% of the votes and now, freed of governing duties, and a victim in public opinion, he could soon become a much more dangerous opponent to Morales than what he would be had he retained his seat.

The regional opposition also can claim victory, though in all fairness the 60%+ of Morales, coattails or not, clouds prospects some. But the "media luna" Prefects all seem to have won with more than 50% of the vote, in particular the more radical one of the biggest province of Santa Cruz who got more than 70%. So now, considering that the loss of La Paz is meaningless since there was little Paredes could do against Morales in the capital, we have 4 ratified prefects, 1 for the opposition that was not required to stand the recall election as freshly elected (Chuquisaca), 3 for Morales and one, Cochabamba where the losing prefect announced long ago that he did not recognize the election (and who did not lose by that much anyway). If we consider that the loss of La Paz was pre-compensated by the election of an indigenous woman opposing Morales in Chuquisaca, the opposition is actually better off as geographically they all now hold together territorially, with the second capital, Sucre, in their hands, sort of anyway.

What next for Bolivia?

Think the US circa 1859-60. That is your reference point. And if you think that Morales with 60% of the vote will be able to force the army to retake Santa Cruz, you will be seriously disappointed. If the "media luna" were to break away, the Bolivian army would break apart, just as Robert E. Lee left the US army to lead the Southern one, after Virginia decided to bolt. Morales is the winner of a country more divided than ever, with the discomforting thought that many of those who voted for him ALSO did vote for an opposition Prefect and thus he cannot rely on his 60%+ to force acceptation the fraudulent constitution he has not been able to bring up to a vote. Nor can he rely on the La Paz inhabitants who voted for him to also get guns and go down to submit Santa Cruz. Bolivia simply squandered yet another opportunity where the only one who can claim to have gained a very little, and I am being generous, is Morales who at least has been able to maintain indigenous unity.

Now, they all have only one option, to climb down from their mutual arrogant positions, no matter how valid those ones are, and renegotiate the constitution project to send it to referendum. If this does not happen then the most probable outcome will be the break up of Bolivia. Venezuela will not be able to help as I am 99% sure that public opinion here will not accept it and that would be the end of Chavez (nor will Colombia, Peru or Brazil accept more involvement of Venezuela than what they are seeing today).

Venezuela 2004

The Recall Election process of Venezuela in 2004 did not solve any of the problems of Venezuela, just as today´s vote solved nothing in Bolivia as it did not address the underlying problems of the country: it was just an act to see who is the "Cacique". In fact we can today say that it aggravated the political problem even if the first result was for Chavez to win 22 out 24 states three months later.

First, the country became irremediably divided in tow irreconcilable camps with a "do not care" floating group who showed little spine as long as government benefits reached them. The 3 million+ of the Tascon list will never forgive becoming second class citizens. But what was worse than that, the Chavez victory and the Tascon list allowed him to transform progressively his followers into his subjects. They are starting to resent that. If to this we add that since then Chavez has felt free to violate the constitution and to apply
at will unacceptable pressures to improve his electoral chances, and to buy any person he needed to buy, you can see that the neglect in their duties of the Carter Center and the OAS in 2004 only served to postpone the denouement of the crisis toward a new outcome that will be in all likelihood violent.

All proportions and local considerations observed, today Boliva started its transit towards a more violent outcome than what it could have achieved if it did not waste its time in an useless Recall Election.

The intellectual fraud behind Recall Election systems

After the result in Bolivia and Venezuela I am ready to toss out this system once and for all, at least for all of Latin America. Its first two applications did not work in that they only they exacerbated the crisis. True, the local good results of the opposition in Bolivia make this conclusion perhaps premature, but I am afraid that I will be proven right.

Why can't a Recall Election work in our countries? Because it personalizes the vote, it makes it an emotional demand on the voters. They are asked to punish one guy without the convenient excuse to be able to say "Oh, but the other one promised me something that interested me more. Next time I will vote again for you, worry not!". Such a vote forces the voter to make a definite choice and thus radicalizes the political process, driving away the normal give an take that politics in a democracy should be about. Not to mention that if the elector voted in the past for the politician to be revoked, you are forcing him or her to admit that they were wrong then, something that few people enjoy.

Reelections are less taxing. To begin with you can say "well, s/he has these flaws but overall I prefer him/her to the other guy". Or you can say "Well, he screwed up on this. To teach him I will vote for her, and is she does not work out, well, I will vote again for him". Think about the psychological underlining of these statements about your own responsibility in voting and you will understand better. A Recall Election does not offer you that moral ambiguity.

If to this you add a culture of love for the strong man, with racial undertones, you can quickly see that Recall Elections can only work in reasonably homogeneous cultures such as in Japan. And I doubt that.

No, for our Latin countries what we need is shorter terms, until people over time learn that they must vote responsibly (yet Western Democracies history seem to indicate that they are still quite far from voter responsibility!). People must learn that when they vote for a jerk, they have to put up with that jerk for the full term. If the jerk is simply unbearable there are other ways to remove him or her, and in Venezuela we have shown that we could remove presidents without Recall Elections or coup d'etat. Or has the world forgotten that Carlos Andres Perez was legally removed from office one year before he completed his second term? And for an offense that was a child's game compared to Chavez offenses today. In Venezuela the next constitutional reform we should consider is to shorten the presidential term, and, as far as I am concerned, remove reelection, ever. In fact I am becoming almost an Athenian as all ex rulers should receive the Ostraka, with a very nice pension for sure.


Last night it was late enough that I forgot to include links to my Bolivian web sources. You can read more in the MAB blog and in the Blog from Bolivia, which shows what good PSF are able to do. If we were so lucky here in Venezuela....

This morning MAB carries graphs from La Razon which confirm what I was writing last night: there was a lot of crossover voters which do tarnish the victory of Morales some (I am not so sure it does tarnish the wins from opposition Prefects in the same way since all of them got MORE, way more votes some time than what they got three years ago).

The recall of Evo is confirmed in Chuquisaca. Thus his win in Cochabamba will not help him that much. And now the media luna is a more solid territorial crescent.

Rural and city vote is very split everywhere, the same phenomenon we observe in Venezuela with Chavez, as education and business drive away like garlic the vampirism of state control. this is dramatic in Potosi, the province that gave Evo its largest victory with 80.8%. The rural vote there was 94.1% FOR Evo but a much lower 68.5% in urban areas.

Crossover voting is more prevalent and important than what I thought at first. For example in La Paz the NO to Evo is 22.9% but the YES to Paredes was twice that amount, at 42.3%.

The division of the country is made clearer if we look at the average Evo Victory. In the 5 provinces he won, the average percentile SI is 70.8%. But in the four he lost the percentile average SI is 44.3%!!!! A difference of 25%!!!! It hardly gets more divided than that.

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A funny note. The coverage of the ABN, the Chavez news agency, focused on the Santa Cruz media not focusing on the Morales victory. Example here. It is amusing because it really shows not only the embarrassing partiality of the ABN, but also its ignorance of how other countries operate when not all is fixated in their capital city, like it happens in Venezuela with Caracas (y lo demas es monte y culebra). Probably the ABN never caught on that in Santa Cruz everybody knew Morales would win and they were just much more interested into what score would their man do at home. Poor ABN, they probaly think that the life of Bolivan media revolves around Morales just like the life of Venezuelan media revolves aound Chavez.

-The end-

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