Two recent events have thrown two powerful wrenches into the carefully orchestrated Unidad primary where all was supposed to go smoothly toward a united candidate, at the price of, lets's say it, a rather dull campaign. And today it is nice to see that the wrenches will not have wrecked the opposition united resolve as chavismo keeps hoping; and maybe made it even stronger.
The first wrench was the head to head of Maria Corina Machado and Chavez on January 13. Besides the folklore around such an event the fact of the matter is that MCM became a credible candidate and one with a real political future. Suddenly the perspective that she could do better than a 4th place and deny an outright majority to the winner became clear to all and forced the other guys to review their strategies.
The one more directly affected was Leopoldo Lopez whose campaign was nixed from the start by the ambiguity of the regime in making his run legal. It does not matter that many did not think this concern worthy of worry, the fact of the matter is that the hoi polloi has grown so weary of chavismo treachery and its ability to get away with murder that any weakness in any candidate is over-amplified. LL who at some point was a challenger for second place and maybe for first had become now clearly someone who was not going to win (at least not by February 12, those deadlines, you know). So LL did the only sensible thing: withdraw rather than be counted and make things worse for him.
Withdrawing does not hurt people who were never perceived as a front challenger. But withdrawing when you almost led at some point and when you can become an unexpected 4th can kill your political career. So LL could not just withdraw from the race, he had to line up behind someone. And he did it rather well by going over to Henrique Capriles Radonski, almost making it a given for February 12 (more on that at the end of the post).
This HCR/LL tandem was also the second wrench thrown at the Unidad campaign. Many people were upset, in the Pablo Perez camp in particular, more even than among LL own party, Voluntad Popular. For notice I may point out an amazingly bitter article of Rafael Poleo in Zeta (not on line) going as far as saying that obscure interests (that he does not name, of course) conspired all along for that HCR/LL show so as to wreck Unidad chances and ease an eventual victory of Chavez. Jose Vicente Rangel would be the real artifice of that conspiracy! Even if we discard outright half of that piece it would still be damming for LL. And yet even if I deduct the names of the "somber" economic interests to be the despicable Cisneros group of Venevision who made a pact with Chavez shortly after the Recall Election it is still not a point. Not only times have changed since 1998, and 2002 and 2004, but all political campaigns from any side have always some "dark interests" giving money. Let's start discussing the folks financing PP, just to name one.
But if Poleo is an out of touch extreme (it is starting to show that he has already spent too much time outside of Venezuela) there are also elegiac articles making LL decision the best thing since sliced bread. Let's get away from these crazies and acknowledge that LL decision was also the one of a statesman, the one of a guy seeing further than his political interests and favoring the interests of the state: the opposition needs a strong winner out of its primaries. More important than whatever votes LL brings to HCR the LL decision created a necessary debate before the vote so all has chance to be discussed and whoever wins in February will have less grudges to heal since all will have had their say. That is, the opposition will decide whether it is best to seduce chavismo (PP and HCR basic tenet) or promise blood sweat and tears (MCM, Arria and PM). That each option is untenable is irrelevant, what we are deciding is what type of campaign we should do. Starting October 8 a new reality will force how to rule.
LL was straddling a little bit both sides, hoping to benefit from both point of views and that favored him at first, attracting the interest of many such as yours truly. But LL could not solidify that. Either the "inhabilitacion", either a poor choice of campaign strategies, either a feisty MCM, it does not matter but his logic approach run aground of a country who only understands polarized politics; and thus it is simply best to settle the issue inside the opposition, bland versus hard against Chavez, tossing away the reasonable option.
That is why after one week of reflection I think that LL decision was even better than expected even though at its origin such lofty goals may not have been the motivation for such decisions. Now we have a simplified situation: there are two brands of blandness towards Chavez, through PP and HCR; though PP has a tougher feel to him which may or may not be compensated in HCR by his new sidekick. And we have MCM for the tough love with Arria as her caution to make her tough love speech more credible. The hard core "take no prisoner" fringe of the opposition will have a catharsis through Arria and then all will rally around HCR, the most likely to win.
As a bonus, numbers. Retaking an earlier post where I was telling you that on paper HCR had to win, we can revisit here the raw numbers.
Of 100 voters we can be assured that mid January the sharing was as follow:
Now, after these two wrenches, half LL goes to HCR and part of the floating drifts to MCM with 25% of LL (people like me for example who see virtues in HCR but are not ready to vote for him). Also, the sudden polarization between PP and HCR likely makes some floating drift to PP, buying into the "right wing conspiracy" of HCR and LL. Today we may be like this:
In this conservative scenario for HCR (I am sure he is getting better numbers but I am playing Devils' advocate here) HCR margin is now too big to be overcome by February 12 by either PP or MCM. Even if PP gets half of the floating population he still gets 34 only.
My bet at this point is 45-50% HCR, 25% PP, 15% MCM, 8% Arria and 2% Medina (as a protest vote of sorts). The 5% in question for HCR going to PP or MCM. And if any PP supporter complains about my guesses let me remind them that PP left the field to HCR alone for at least two months while UNT sorted its internal mess and courted AD and COPEI. Time is of the essence in politics and on this regard both HCR and LL have a much better timing than the other guys. By far....