Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Electoral reality check

This week end, major newspapers carried electoral studies about the opposition chances for September legislative elections.  As if we were in a perfectly normal country.  Even Quico went through such exercise a few weeks ago.  It seems that for once I am not the one doing the detailed electoral analysis.  Why?  Because I think that it will be very difficult to reach the September electoral date, at least as planned.

Before I continue I do not want to imply that there will not be elections this year, that a "constitutional coup" is coming. I mean that elections can either be postponed or held but for other objectives.  Though with Chavez one never knows exactly what is cooking.

To understand the hypothesis I will advance later it is important to remember a few elemental facts and observations:
  • Chavez knows that the economical situation is not working in his favor.  By September the consequences of devaluation, inflation and production decrease due to energy shortages will be felt in full, complicating the PSUV electoral task no matter how much oil money comes in to buy votes
  • Chavismo knows very well that a loss at the National Assembly could quickly unravel the regime as finally some form of control will appear and the turpitude prevalent in the day to day routine would be fully exposed
  • In addition a National Assembly not under chavismo control will not allow Chavez to use state money as he pleases
  • Finally such an hypothetical assembly would start taking away the control of the judicial system from the executive hands, the last step to remove Chavez from power if the above does not work
The final result could be not only that Chavez would be forced to resign, but he could end in jail with at least a couple of dozens of his helpers (Diosdado, Ramirez, Faria, Rodriguez, Rangel, etc...).  Chavismo knows that very well or why do you think they refuse to acknowledge things such as the OAS's IACHR Human Rights reprot, or Spanish justice?  The question here that is truly ruling the political climate even though many stick their head in the sand is how will Chavez avoid losing control of the legislative power.

We can come up easily with a dozen or more scenarios, ranging from an outright coup to Chavez accepting meekly and unfavorable electoral result, though from past experience we know that neither one of these extremes will happen.  In no particular order I will list some possible hypothesis.

The outright electoral fraud.  There is already electoral fraud going on, from the CNE gerrymandering to the extensive cadenas of electoral nature already taken place.  But if that is not enough to ensure victory, will the CNE go as far as fudging the final numbers?  Let's not forget that the 2007 result is still not known.  If the opposition win were to be too important why not admit its victory but by a one seat majority, hoping that soon enough one of the new representatives can be bought out, or jailed, or killed, as needed.  Hence for a few weeks "democracy" would have been in place but without the time to clean up the government.

The legislative fraud.  A variant of the above.  The opposition wins but the lame duck assembly has still two months to legislate and writes itself out of any real power.  The new assembly is powerless at first and must struggle to recover some of its power control.  It can do that even against a hostile Judicial Power but Chavez gains time until more favorable days allow him to try another electoral outcome to get rid of the opposition majority.

Suspending elections.  Any international or internal crisis could be enough to postpone the election by a few months.  That hypothesis has two problems: 1) only the government is interested in generating such a crisis and it would show, possibly damaging its future electoral results and 2) it could only work if the economic prospects of the country look significantly better BEFORE March 2010 as the elections could not really be postponed beyond May 2010 as too many elections are already overdue (partial elections, municipal ones).

A different electoral contest.  Chavez will try to avoid a defeat at all costs and one way to do that is to run in a different type of election where he has a better chance to prevail.  That is why he has already been trying to convince the opposition to call for a recall election, conveniently forgetting that he promised in 2006 to call for such a referendum, supposedly to convince people of his democratic talent.

Fortunately for Chavez an historical landmark is just around the corner: the bicentennial of April 19 1810 when Venezuela started its road to independence.   What better opportunity for a demagogic call for a referendum on a constitutional assembly or some constitutional reform that could weaken the power of  the incoming National Assembly?  After all, the High Court has opened that way by suggesting that strict separation of powers is not a good thing!

True, he could lose such a referendum but there is a major difference: in September Chavez will not be perceived as being himself in the ballot, no matter how hard he tries to convince us that the new National Assembly first task is to end the revolution.  However in a referendum Chavez is on the ballot himself and his personal emotional ties with a large sector of the country could work out and postpone the collapse of his regime, considering that the opposition seems to be woefully unprepared for any maneuver outside of the September vote (for which it already seems to have lots of problems!  Imagine if they had to decide on a Constitutional Assembly strategy!).


There!  Take your pick or come up with another plan but pray that the political opposition has a think tank group working on the hypothesis above, and more.

PS: yes, I will make further electoral analysis and predictions, but not yet as I think predicting more than what I have already done is useless until we know the candidates in critical circumscriptions.


  1. 1979 Boat People7:44 AM


    Hilarious word from General David Petraeus.

    Petraeus warns Iran becoming 'thugocracy'


    Venezuela is becoming a 'thugocracy' under Thugo Chavez.

    How does that sound?

  2. As usual, Chavez will use every trick he's used in the past and some new ones and even if he does not win all the seats, those that win from oppo will be nuetered. Sorry to be such a downer but 11 years now has taught these things. This is not an assumption; it's a given.

  3. Daniel,
    In Delta Amacuro the Si vote in 2009 was on average about 10% higher in those schools for which we have no acta.

  4. Two comments on your legislative fraud scenario: first, it is NOT a variation on electoral fraud. That scenario completely denies the reality of the elections, the will of the people expressed at the ballot box. The other acknowledges that reality, but tries to subvert it as much as possible in the short time that remains - which would hardly be the first time that happened anywhere in the world.

    Second, what you describe is precisely what happened very recently in Argentina. The ruling coalition lost its majority in the election, then spent a few months ramming as much of its agenda through as it possibly could, ignoring - defying - the mandate of the people. Sort of democratic and anti-democratic at the same time.

    Chavez would be well aware of this even if it weren't happening to a good (?) friend, and I'm certain that he sees this route as unnaceptable, absolutely intolerable. Therefore I believe this option should be ruled out (which also renders your error moot. :) ) As for my prediction, #4 is almost sure to happen (if a formal referendum isn't called, he will campaign as if the vote were a referendum on him alone), and since it isn't exclusive of #1 and #3, he will try the latter if he thinks it will benefit him, and he will prepare for the former and use it as much as he thinks is necessary.

  5. Juan Cristobal2:42 PM

    I liked your analysis, BUT... I don't think 3 is likely, and 1, 2, and 4, speak mostly of Chavez's reaction to the opposition winning the Assembly.

    There is also the scenario that everything goes as planned and chavismo till manages to win.

  6. AIO

    I see your point but it is still an electoral fraud. That is, any measure that is designed to thwart the real will of the people is an electoral fraud.

    As for "second". Chavez is always the candidate, that is the only thing he knows how to do, to campaign. This being said, what I mean by him being in the ballot is that the outcome of the vote will reflect directly in him and people perceive it as such.

    In a legislative election it is true that the assembly could unseat him but it needs first to win a decisive victory and start a long difficult impeachment battle. So, no matter how much he campaigns he is not really on the ballot and his people can risk voting elsewhere, or not vote at all.

    In a referendum or a constituent assembly you vote directly on something that Chavez wants you to do, something that could more or less remove Chavez from office even! Voting NO in the referendum or voting for another guy at a constituent assembly affects Chavez directly and his people will think it twice before staying home or voting NO-

    I know it is a rather specious argument but it is the way emotional politics work :)

  7. Juan Cristobal

    Good point in that chavismo could actually win fair and square. And it could also get a majority with a minority of the votes!!!! there is plenty of scenarios but I covered only 4 of them based on today's reality. I wrote this assuming that polls are right in that chavismo is down right now, but it certainly can go up again.

    Now, what I do not understand is the second part of your comment- Of course ALL is a reaction of Chavez to an unfavorable situation. Or did you mean something else?

  8. It is so difficult for me to get a handle on what might play out in Venezuela with respect to an election scenario, that I cannot make any kind of an educated guess.

    But I will post one prediction I have, which is that the internal situation with respect to electrical power and other public services will force a confrontation of some sort--forgive me, but there could be several types of scenarios here--and that its principal impact will be upon the elections in some way or another.

    This seems to suggest that I would argue the "suspending the elections" scenario, but if that is tried, I would predict a rapidly-unraveling scenario to ensue, because I think that would lead to widespread public disorder and I do not like the implications of that in any way.

    Am I wrong to think that only the military could assert itself within Venezuela to restore order if chaos ensues? I really do not know, I am asking.

    I think you are headed for a series of crises. I just cannot tell how they will develop other than that they will include a breakdown in the delivery of public services.



  9. "However in a referendum Chavez is on the ballot himself and his personal emotional ties with a large sector of the country could work out..."

    That's an interesting take on things, but I disagree. The last thing Chavez would want is an *honest* up or down vote on him. I use the ** because who would know if the vote was fair. In elections in the US, the opposition is always strongest when it is a "generic" anti-incumbent vote (as a referendum on Chavez would be), the moment the opposition always is a flesh and blood person with a background an a set of positions on the issues, they lose support.

    Having said that, I expect the elections in September to go forward but as Chavez's buddy Almedinejad has proven, just say you've won an overwhelming victory and send the security forces out to suppress dissent. I'd like to think Venezuela is different, but is it? Granted, the rulers in Iran have religion, but so does Chavez, Chavismo is a religion as well.

  10. On another note, what is the Chavez/Ortega/Morales response to to the US withdrawal from Haiti? I thought, according to these three stooges, it was occupying Hiati and (according to Hugito, shooting looters on sight) for oil. What gives, how can the Empire be withdrawing voluntarily?

  11. St Jacques

    I have offered 4 scenarios but I have been careful to suggest what woudl be the outcome one of these scenarios is applied, besides Chavez wishful thinking. The key question is how far the army will follow him....

  12. Yes Daniel, I noticed the care you took in suggesting the endless possibilities.

    My first thought when I tried to sit down and project what would happen was--"I'm not going to touch this one with a ten foot pole." But then I thought a bit and said--"Well Daniel went out on a limb just to post his ideas on the possibilities, maybe he deserves a response." So I posted what I did, which probably shows some nerves on my part about the situation.

    I think we both agree that the situation is quite fluid.

    This was a very thought provoking post here Daniel.



  13. Ah, I see - so what you mean by fraud is making a mockery of the elections. Yes, that's true in either scenario.

    I think the Argentina example really bears out what both of us are saying there. But given how difficult the going is for the Kirchners, I simply cannot see Chavez putting up with that. So I understand your term now (but don't like it, at least in English), but I doubt that scenario will be realized. And in part for what you suggest - that an NA majority against him could bring an impeachment fight. He doesn't want that either.

    And no, you can't discount the emotional factor here. I'd say that's one of the biggest things Chavez has going for him. Emotions among many who would vote for him run very strong.

  14. Daniel and JC,

    I think winning " fair and square" are not the best words to describe the best scenario for Chavez.As the whole process is already undemocratically skewed in his favor, the most that could be said would be " winning without an outright, wholesale theft of votes".


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