I have no intention to cover in deep the mayoral elections of December 2013. First, prediction is extremely hazardous because chavismo and opposition are, write it down, going to make major mistakes upon unexplained errors. Second, it is unbelievable that we are forgetting so easily the electoral fraud of last April. And third, that the opposition is planing on making an election with a traditional high abstention as a plebiscite on Maduro blows my mind.
Yet, since it is going to be in the news, I will try to help the reader in understanding what is at stake. Let's go by parts, starting with the last one, the easiest one to deal with.
A plebiscite? You must be kidding....
The idea is that a definitive result against the regime in December would finish this one off. There is so much wrong with that idea that I could write a treatise on it.
First, it is a traditional high abstention vote so even a major success from the opposition will translate in less votes than in April. Right there, the regime can dampen any excitation arising from an opposition victory.
Second, a regime that so far has survived major inflation, major devaluation, major scarcity and obscene electoral fraud while neutralizing the national assembly and the judicial power is able to do anything it takes to stay in office. Adverse municipalities will be quickly neutralized by reviving the "communal power" to break up opposition municipal councils.
Third, calling it a plebiscite can only motivate more the chavista core base who in time of crisis, of bankruptcy, might be even more sensitive to the regime argument that "whatever little you get depends on me remaining in office".
Fourth, if the "plebiscite" fails, if the regime survives, then we will lose bigger than what the numbers may actually say.
And so on. The opposition leadership faction promoting this are, well, idiots.
An electoral fraud always hides another one
It is becoming clear that the regime will play with the same trump cards it played in October 2012 and April 2013. That is, same CNE, same voter rolls, same voting center personnel, while ignoring all the claims made by the opposition. This one is patiently "waiting" for a high court decision on the fraud claims that now it is almost certain will not come until after the municipal elections. This leaves us with two sets of considerations.
On the positive side, since we must always try to find a silver lining, a supposedly incensed opposition voter will be more active. Also, the high number of candidates for municipal councils will create a large population of monitors coming from these candidates friends and families. We can expect indeed that there will be more difficulties for the regime to do such fraud like "assisted voting" or "the night of the living dead voter".
Yet, gerrymandering and other stuff will help the regime who in turn will also have the families and friends of its candidates at the doors of the voting centers, promoting unrest and scare tactics for opposition abstention. I think the regime is clear in its mind that it will lose those elections, something that may have happened even if Chavez were alive today. The objective is to minimize losses, which explains why these elections have been shamelessly postponed since 2005 when the term is 4 years!!!! And do not be surprised if the regime once again uses some delaying tactic to postpone these elections for 2014.... why should they risk the comfortable majority in municipal districts they enjoy today with some silly election?
Which brings us to the very start of this post: what can we predict? Nothing because the stakes are so high from each side that once again there cannot be clear cut results.
The stakes of that December vote are very high for both sides.
It is certain that beyond a putative victory the opposition needs to shore up its municipal presence if it wants to oust the regime in a near future. However that Capriles has chosen a low key approach to claim for his victory of April saying things that "we cannot send people to the slaughter house" and doing nothing but law suits that we all know will never been won outright inside Venezuela has a powerful unmotivating effect for the opposition voter. Also, it is so clear that politics is a business as any other for politicians more worried about their paycheck than the fate of the country that the radical voter will be tempted to punish those that want a job in any town hall by withholding the votes for winning that one. Remember that some of these races will be won on a few dozen votes and there the "radical vote" will have an enormous importance. And to add more trouble for the opposition, that the primaries were held almost two years tot he day of the election has changed a lot the local electoral situation. Some winners then look like losers today. I already complained about that then but no one listens to this blogger.... :)
The stakes for chavismo are even higher because they speak to the basic survival of the regime. See, beyond a possible defeat, the point is that municipal councils are a major source of patronage for chavismo. Losing a mere 25% of those held currently would create quite a lot of trouble for chavismo which will have as lone solution the creation of yet another layer of parallel administration at a time where coffers are looking rather empty for such waste. Expect thus yet another dirty campaign with massive intimidation as Maduro himself started yesterday by claiming once again, without proof, that he knows who did not vote for him last April. If four moths before the vote we are under such blackmail, expect outright violence.
Thus we can predict one thing for certain: mean elections.
To conclude this post, we can attempt not a prediction but what would be the reading of the results.
For chavismo the task is to preserve as much as possible the advantage they have. They can actually gain a few town halls (+/- 6) to compensate the dozens that they expect to lose. According to Wikipedia (!) the regime holds 267 town-halls against 68 for the opposition. This apparent majority should be tempered by noting that a majority of the large districts are held by the opposition (4 in Caracas, Maracaibo, etc...) and thus about 40% of the country lives under an opposition mayor. We can say that if chavismo manages to retain more than 200 districts it can still milk that result as a victory of sorts even though it would most certainly mean that now more than 50% of the country has voted for an opposition mayor. The only "psychological" victory the regime may expect is if it were to take Maracaibo and retain Valencia. We should note that chavismo deciding not to hold primaries for its candidates will likely constitute a handicap as many an activists of the PSUV will stay home, dissatisfied by being ignored once again and this time by Chavez cheap underlings. It is thus very possible that the PSUV may not reach that magical 200 that would allow it to claim victory even if it gets less votes than the opposition.
The opposition starts with several advantages. A majority of its candidates are primary winners who had time to forge a consensus around their name. Also, the opposition has been steadily increasing its share and there is no reason to see it become otherwise. If indeed December 2012 was a bad surprise when it managed to retain only 3 states, the numbers of that same December would have already reflected a gain in town halls! We can thus expect that no matter what the regime throws in electoral fraud the opposition should be able to reach this time around 100 mayor seats. I think their goal of 134 is at this time overly optimistic.
But the opposition victory should be measured elsewhere, in the quality of its gains. For example, recovering the town hall of Valencia is almost a must for the opposition. In Miranda, winning Los Teques and, why not, Guatire, would go a long way in shoring up Capriles and demanding a recall election against the state assembly that sabotages any of his activities. Another couple of wins that would strike the spirits is for the opposition to pick up Barquisimeto and Cabudare in Lara. Barquisimeto in particular would be one of the harshest defeats that chavismo could suffer. And should. Some other less certain but possible victories could be Maracay, Puerto Ordaz and maybe, just maybe, Barinas. Even if chavismo retains its 200+ majority, if this list of 8 cities goes to the opposition, any claim of victory will sound deeply hollow, even for the chavista core. Amen of the big enchilada which is Caracas/Libertador.....
There is really one single conclusion: these elections are going to be particularly complex as national interest will be dramatically juxtaposed to local ones in a bigger way than ever since Chavez was elected first in 1998. Nothing will visibly decant until, say, late September.
I simply have no time nor any desire to track down such an ethereal situation, the more so that from the start I am in disagreement with the way the campaign is starting, with a boring Capriles at his helm. I know that some of you appreciate these analysis but this time I find them futile. It is not that I will not cover the election but I have the feeling that I will write no more than 2 or 3 posts on that subject, maybe one of them commenting on why the elections have been once again postponed.......