Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Venezuela 2009 vote I: you call this an electoral campaign?

So Chavez in his immense hubris, and his fear of leaving office someday, decided to launch the country in yet another mad electoral contest. He has on his side all the power of the state whereas the other side at best can have the power of reason and ethics, which they do not use that well anyway.

I have covered previous elections in as much in detail as I could, but this one, well, not only I did not have the heart to cover but I did not have much time for it anyway. But I suppose that I must cover it at some point as I am running out of excuses. After all, what better excuse to avoid discussing the grossness of our political landscape than to lament a synagogue attack? Thus today I will offer you my view on the campaign and tomorrow my electoral predictions.

The Chavez camp

What can I say that has not been said already? Well, at least we can point out that it is worse than ever.

The CNE partiality has been worse than ever.

All the electoral trickery from chavismo has been accepted, from the illegal timetable to the referendum question which hides what cannot be hidden. In fact the very worst violation of all is that the referendum question allows the National Assembly to rewrite as it pleases 5, FIVE, articles of the constitution AFTER the vote. That is right, we are going to vote on amending 5 articles and WE DO NOT KNOW what the text of the new articles will be. The CNE apparently has no problems with that.

The use and abuse of state power has been worse than ever.

The propaganda blitz for the SI (even in Globovision!!) has left far behind the extensive campaigning of last fall with distribution of washers and refrigerators included. SI posters, stickers, t-shorts are hurting our eyes even though in January the government has tried to soften the edges by including some green pastel and yellow to its color schemes. This week at 11 AM I was stuck in traffic in San Felipe, where there is normally very little traffic, because public employees were marching for the SI in main street. In fact all chavistas elected last November have not started to rule their new territory: they were conscripted from the start to campaign for the reelection. They were even asked to give one day salary to the SI camp…. But for me the most insulting moment was to find SI advertisement in my Gmail page. Who paid for that? What kind of anti US revolution advertises in the most globalized tool of the world?

The idiocy of some of the Chavez supporters has been worse than ever.

I am not going to go into the details on how ridiculous the chavista arguments are to justify the eternal reelection amendment. Even Sweden was called to help because, well, the Prime minister can be voted in as long as people wanted. Of course in that particular example they forgot to mention that Olof Palme was assassinated going to the movies, on foot, because the social compact of Sweden is, well, very different from the one in Venezuela, allowing for a long term Prime Minister to live without body guards. Chavez has more on duty body guards than there are members of the Swedish parliament… If someday as a sitting president Chavez goes to the Sambil movies with a couple of body guards only then maybe I might not object so much to eternal reelection.

However there was a particularly offensive moment: when Robert Serra in an interview to El Nacional declared that he was fine in trusting his entire future to Chavez. That is right, a freshly graduated student of the chavismo camp (who I am told by UCAB friends has already body guards) thinks it is fine to surrender your thinking process to a single man for life. Some pearls of his January 25 interview:

-- [...]Chavez is the fatherland...

--Something positive with the Venezuelan opposition? --Nothing

--The revolution mistake? --Lack of authority in letting the opposition do as it pleases.

--What movies do you chose when you go out? --I have no time to go. All my mind and my time are always dedicated to the revolution. [sic]

--Do you remember how long was the president speech January 13? --Seven hours and a half.

--And the one of Barack Obama? --I did not listen to it but I believe it was shorter because he had nothing to say in front of all the achievements that Chavez had to show.

--Would you obey any order from Hugo Chavez? --Any one, as a faithful soldier.

--What would happen to Venezuela if Hugo Chavez loses the amendment [vote]? --Sadness for the revolution and its opposition… Chavez is the only guarantee for peace in Venezuela.

There you have it, the intellectual content of the SI campaign in full. No wonder the opposition students can stir the masses, produce crop after crop of leaders while chavismo student body leaders seem to be as recycled as the cabinet seats of chavismo.

Well open up your mind and see like me
Open up your plans and damn you’re free

The opposition camp

The opposition started with a major handicap: it was flat broke after the expensive fall campaign for mayors and governors. Chavez does not have this problem. Could be one of the explanations of why Chavez moved so fast on what he perceived as a meager electoral success of November 23.

However the opposition had a major advantage form the start: the moral high ground. No matter what the campaign of Chavez tried to pull, the fact remains that the reelection of Chavez was refused in 2007 and people know it. In fact numbers were negative enough for Chavez that he was forced in January to include everyone as benefiting of the reelection. On that and his absurd campaign he managed to improve his polls until apparently the race became too close to call one week before the vote (more in next post).

But the opposition did get some mileage on the cheap form this stunning change of Chavez who until December refused to extend reelection to anyone but himself.

The only bright light in the opposition campaign is the demonstration that a new generation of student leaders, perhaps even brighter than the 2007 one, has come to the front. Folks like David Smolanski are more articulate than the Guevara or Goicochea of the 2007 duel. And again the students offer the intellectual substrate for the opposition campaign that the politicians seem unable to provide.

As such the opposition campaign had to be low key, few posters, the TV advertisement financed by the CNE. It is more of a door to door affair with the students offering the street action that seems to terrify Chavez who was not afraid to order the best quality tear gas to repress students. That latest abuses of chavismo seems to have backfired badly as the growing tendency of the SI in polls seems to have brutally stopped forcing suddenly a new tender and loving Chavez, willing to talk on the phone with ex student leader Stalin Gonzalez.

Listen to the music of the moment people, dance and sing
We’re just one big family


The opposition started ahead. The massive campaign of Chavez was able to impress a few (though polls are weary of a “scare” factor strong enough this time to obscure results). But the violence of chavismo in mid January was too much for some and the favorable trend for the SI seems to have stopped just as polls were getting even. A such serious pollsters advice, the election is too close to call (and I agree as you will read in next post).

However one thing is absolutely certain, this election and its brief campaign will divide Venezuelans more than ever. Those who will vote SI will vote deliberately for a paternalist state where the only beneficiaries will be those who obey Chavez, as Robert Serra so eloquently tells us. They also vote for violence and accept Chavez blackmail. I cannot speculate on what motivates such people since I am allergic to any form of militaristic undue authority, of failed leadership who retains its appeal only on emotions. I suppose that chavistas have their reason besides what I detailed a few weeks ago, and at least I dearly hope so.

And yet, the election again will not solve anything. Chavez will not get the crushing and definitive victory that has eluded him in ten years (in his mind he needs 80% of the vote to feel at peace, I suppose). But the opposition will probably not get the 10% margin victory it needs to weaken decisively Chavez and bring back more democratic manners in Venezuela, such as allowing opposition governors and mayors to fulfill their electoral promises.

Again we will vote and nothing will be settled while chavismo corruption will keep bleeding the country. However this will be the last time chavismo can cruise to victory relatively easy because the economic crisis coming will sorely test the sustainability of chavismo populism. The final battle cannot be that far.

In other words, we need to forget about Chavez threats, about our anxiety and go and vote NO as every single vote, even if we lose, will be a stab at Chavez ego.

So please don’t, there is no need
There is no need to complicate
‘Cause our time is short
This is, this is, this is our fate

-The end-

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