Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Actually, is a split in Venezuelan opposition unavoidable?

I was musing about the opposition divisions becoming more intractable. And they are.

What makes me think the opposition alliance, MUD, will divide is paradoxically, in a way, an editorial of Rafael Poleo in his magazine Zeta where he attacks Diego Arria (not available on line). Whether Poleo is right in his assessment is irrelevant to our discussion. What is relevant is his vehemence against Diego Arria and what he supposedly represents.

In short, Poleo accuses Diego Arria to be some sort of Trojan horse that is trying to divide the MUD for the benefit of his allies. Poleo stops short from accusing him of having some kind of situation room where gazillion of anti MUD tweets are emitted, or something like that.  There are some flaws with Poleo argument. The obvious one is that the failures of the MUD make it an easy target. As such Poleo attack reeks a tad of "shoot the messenger". Second, even though Diego Arria has a lot of followers in Twitter, his impact on Venezuelan politics is not proportional. After all he did poorly in the primaries of 2013, and furthermore he has been forced into exile after having been robbed pretty much all that he has in Venezuela. Poleo is also an exile, for that matter. My point, in short, is that Poleo's attack probably help more Arria than hurt him.

But this is all a symptom, due to the original sins of Venezuelan politics: nobody wants to be center right. Not even center. At least not nominally. Poleo is certainly one of those guilty of that.

Whether you like it, there is always a dichotomy inside any political system. There are those that identify with "right" values such as family protection, or strong national security, or law an order or simply fiscal restraint. And those who favor social programs, or more liberal attitudes in social mores, or peacenicking at any cost.  We call that in French "la droite/gauche parlementaire", that is the political parties that do respect the rule of law and the necessary alternance in power, be they left or right. This division is healthy and is what makes for stable democracies. We never had that in Venezuela. For example the Socialist International lists 4, FOUR, political parties from Venezuela. It is not unusual to have a left division reflected in the membership of a country, but never four (and I may say there is at least two more Venezuelan political parties that would not mind being invited to the organization). The consequences are very simple: the alleged similar ideologies from these parties is not a unifying factor because what will make the real difference are the personal ambitions of its leadership.

We have seen in the last three months how the divisions are taking place, no matter what Arria or Poleo may think. First there was the betrayal of Manuel Rosales and his vehicle UNT (Un Nuevo Tiempo). This allowed the regime to pack the electoral board (CNE) and render more difficult any future election. In exchange Rosales was released from a rather comfortable jail, by Venezuelan standards, and is now saying that there will be no elections until 2018.

The next betrayal, though not as direct, was when Avanzada Progresista (AP) decided to go for political party renewal without awaiting a final MUD decision. To make a long story short, once the CNE was back firmly in the hands of the regime this one decided to demand that all political parties prove that they represented something. On paper it is not necessarily a bad idea for a political party to prove that it means something, in particular to receive electoral money. But see, in Venezuela, the state is not allowed to finance electoral campaigns; so what difference would that make if a party has 1.000 or 1.000.000 members?

It is all of course a strategy to delay by a few more months elections which are already 3 months overdue. But it also has another sinister objective: to validate, a party needs to surrender to the CNE a list of the people who signed up, including their home address "for aleatory verification" which will take who knows how many months. This, in a dictatorial regime as the one we have now, means that the regime will have in hand the perfect list for any repressive measure it wishes to take. And one better: since there is a need for 0.5% electors in at least a dozen states, then the regime also gets the leadership list in all those states, making it easier to crack down and erase a party when needed. With the past experiences of Venezuela on all sorts of apartheid measures it is impossible to underestimate the damage that such a process can make.

It would have been thus normal for the MUD who was not obliged to renew its registration since it had enough votes a year ago to debate carefully how to operate that registration, if at all. But Henri Falcon and AP went ahead anyway and played the game. Curiously the process was designed for several weekends, with X political groups having a given weekend for the process. The first one was allotted to AP together with smaller parties that had no chance whatsoever to get the 0.5% in the given number of states. In other words AP calendar was way more favorable than the calendar of AD, PJ, VP, UNT and what not. Sure enough AP made it, though not with much ease, even though it did not have to fight with other parties for access to the limited registration machines.

Since it was impossible to make a formal united front, Voluntad Popular, next on schedule, decided to go for it. Did it have any choice? And in spite of many obstacles and scare tactics Leopoldo Lopez party did manage to register in all states except (drum roll!) in Lara, the home turf of AP. Ain't that something....  PJ followed suit this weekend and made it with less trouble than VP. But many will be left dead on the side like, in particular, VENTE of Maria Corina Machado who refused to go, though I suspect that they would not have made it on the unfair rules imposed.

Some claim that by braving all obstacles and threats the party registrations will be a major defeat for the regime who hoped to tailor an opposition to its taste. But that is not the point. The regime got what it wanted: UNT and AP acting more and more at the margins of the MUD. Is Arria guilty of that? Are the ambitions of jailed Leopoldo Lopez responsible for the cowardice of Rosales? Well, yes, in a way I suppose.

Whatever the case may be it is becoming clearer that the opposition MUD will eventually divide, whether we like it. And as I wrote in the previous two entries of this blog, it does not necessarily needs to be a bad thing as it would force each side (if hopefully there is only two) to have more clarity on their ideological and program offerings. That may rekindle the energy of the voter better than the greasy forcefully fed ointment of the UNITY label or else.


Notes for full disclosure:

1) I am still convinced that there is the need of a strong electoral alliance to defeat someday the regime. However since we are in a dictatorship mode now an electoral alliance is, well, a kind of moot point. What I advocate is that the MUD should now be ONLY an electoral alliance whose political and administrative agenda would only be fixed according to some form of primary where the winning side will have the most influence in the platform, kind of like the US political system of primaries.

2) I will not sign up for any political party. Long time readers of this blog may be surprised that I did not go, nor covered for that matter, to the validation of Voluntad Popular. If truth be told I am still the supporter of Leopoldo Lopez and will do anything in my power to have him freed (which is very little unfortunately). But when VP joined the Socialist International it showed that it fell in the eternal trap of Venezuelan politics, all on the left. I just decided to give up on any political party. Maybe if Maria Corina Machado had more managerial skills and could organize VENTE we would have a "droite parlementaire" choice, but I better not hold my breath.

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