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Venezuela: an electoral rabbit out of the hat

By Daniel Duquenal

Monday 12, January 2004 -The president of Primero Justicia (PJ) has pulled out a fast one this week end, something that in my opinion can be quite important. Mr. Borges, president of Primero Justicia (Justice First) has brought forward what should have been public knowledge for all (including myself): legally there can be no regional and local elections until December 2004. Why is this so important?


According to the 1999 constitution and the laws that followed, regular elections can only be held in December, our election day being the first Sunday of December. With the constitutional change, and under the excuse of the transition period, once the new document was approved on 12/15/99, the electoral offices were put up for re-election in July 2000, instead of December 2000 as it should have been.

Furthermore, a ruling by the high court decided that the 6 months between 7/2000 and 12/2000 would be a ñapa, (a bonus) to the normal 12/2000 12/2004 term. This also applied to Chavez 6 year term, which became a 6 year + 6 months.

A Chavez trap?

By deciding to announce his candidates to prospective local elections in July 2004 Chavez set up a mechanism that until today was unchallenged. Amazingly we had to wait for four months of this initiative to find someone contesting the legality of it. Why? The urgent desire to see chavistas out of office? The general legal ignorance of people? I did wonder briefly about it a few weeks ago but I did not know the legalese of the case and I thought that some agreement had been made where from now on regional elections would be held every four years in July. But this is not possible apparently.

However Chavez by setting up the local election mechanism was slowly inducing the political greed of the opposition politicians to bloom. Indeed, if the opposition has much better numbers than in 2000, it stands to gain a few governorships and townships. For career politicians, suddenly, the recall election is not as important as their future career. And as a side bonus for Chavez it creates plenty of instances where the fragile opposition unity. This is due as the discrepancy between the unity wishes of the people and the lack of mechanism to decide the united candidates.

This malaise was part of the problem through December when the signatures collected it seemed that the traditional political hacks were more worried about how to decide the candidatures of July instead of defending the signatures.

The electoral surprise of Borges.

PJ might be a young party but it is learning fast. And of all the opposition movements it is probably the one that has its ear closer to what is happening in the streets. This is not a free declaration to stir the pot. It is likely that Mr. Borges is pursuing several things:

1) Have the movements within the Coordinadora Democratica (CD) face their immediate responsibility, the one that brought them together, the one that garnered them the people’s support, the Recall Election. No more dithering! This is what is killing enthusiasm since the signature drive!

2) Remind people that the problem is Chavez. His governors and mayors might be part of the problem but they are not the problem. The problem is Chavez.

3) Remind them that any talk of elections, of unique regional candidates is not only distracting but very complex, and plays into the hands of Chavez. If the Recall Election is held by late May, it will be much easier and less divisive to hold local elections in December, with probably even more votes to grab for the opposition as chavismo will be very diminished. But if local elections happen at or near an eventual Recall Election, without a mechanism of candidate selection, the infighting might turn off voters and allow Chavez to squeak by. A victory of Chavez at the Recall Election will demobilize the opponent electorate and perhaps allow him to regain most of the states and cities currently held by chavistas.

4) Bring back PJ to the front news, which seems to be working as can be heard tonight on TV when some of the apoplectic colleagues of PJ in the CD are making declarations to unity, declarations sorely missed through the holidays, and displaying their dislike of PJ incidentally (which might be a confession of PJ strength).

5) Force the CD to define once and for all how unified candidacies will achieved, in particular the one that matters, the one that will oppose the chavista candidate were the Recall Election be held and won.

I think that Mr. Borges was right to kick butt yesterday and tonight on TV. He might not reach the goal of elections in December 2004, but he might reach other more important goals such as reviving a somnolent CD. As days go it seems more and more that only PJ has a clue as to what is going on. Even old and wily Accion Democratica seems out of the loop. But the old coots might have the final trick, deal with Chavez directly. The PJ move might force that issue too, which might be a very good thing: it is time to know where the political class stand, with the people for the Recall Election, or for their own interests.

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