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A strange Electoral Campaign in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

Sunday 27, June 2004 - Soon we will be half way in the time interval between the Recall Election on Chavez rule (August 15), and its announcement. Yet, the outside observer would be forgiven if he/she wondered about what kind of election we are running. Certainly this is going to be quite an atypical event, in particular in South America were strong leaders remain in office no matter, or are booted out unceremoniously. An atavism that resurfaces often, at least in the pro Chavez camp.

The pro Chavez camp

Once all the talk of "megafraud" was over, as begrudgingly Chavez admitted that there were indeed enough signatures, the first question for chavismo was to make people forget such a distasteful campaign and its ignominious failure, not to mention the lies. Thus Chavez launched the "campaņa de Santa Ines" and a "Maisanta commando", digging into some mythological Venezuelan past to create an atmosphere of last battle and mobilize his troops the better. The idea of course was not to let his troops linger enough and wonder about one year of electoral tricks that failed.

Now the chavista verbal effort is littered with war terms, the organization includes "commandos" and "patrols". No quarters will be given to the opposition which is blithely associated with a plan from the US to invade Venezuela as soon as it can pull its troops out of Iraq. Or even earlier through Colombia. Amazingly some people are buying it.

But it makes sense at some level. Chavez, an incomplete soldier, yearns from the final battle that will eradicate his opposition. Democracy for him means that the other side waits until he is done with whatever it is he wants to do. More pragmatically, he knows that the numbers are not with him and he needs a rabble-rousing campaign if he is to have a chance at turning the tide. That strategy could indeed work out, or could backfire badly. But if it works out the opposition will be annulled for a few years, enough for him to set a system that could be broken with great difficulty. And foreign opinion will welcome him, and his oil, back as a democrat. That is, if he wins the referendum fair and square.

The anti Chavez camp

The Venezuelan opposition after having invested so much in the recall election drive reached the desired goal a little bit tired. So far its campaign is not going full steam and that has started worrying a few analysts. But is this a matter of concern? After all the opposition does not have the financial back up that Chavez has, after he has grabbed 2 billion dollars to share around for vote buying. Its effort must be carefully targeted, with outmost efficiency as this is the last chance to remove Chavez in a peaceful way. Thus, before throwing the book at Chavez, a careful preparation is good strategy. Also, as a hodgepodge, the opposition needs time to assuage internal dissention until it can become fully efficient as it demonstrated in November and May when all was patched for the common goal.

In fact the opposition does not need to portray Chavez, we all know who he is. Its campaign must be centered in exposing Chavez voter buying actions, and in offering a more efficient and honest administration to replace Chavez. In this respect, the numbers do help the opposition. The opposition has the electoral capital, it only needs to make sure it is not dilapidated.

A speculation as to how is the Venezuelan electorate divided

Let's imagine a group of 100 Venezuelan electors whose behavior I will speculate about in the table below. From that table, it should become clear that the first priority of the opposition is to keep its voters motivated. It also should be clear that the uphill road is for Chavez, which explains in large part his early start (not forgetting that he loves to campaign and that is the only thing he seems to know how to do).

To understand the following table it is important to realize that signing up one's name with ID number is a very powerful act and it indicates a voter that is highly motivated. After all Chavez has now in his hand a list of all his declared opponents, and he has not been reluctant at using it. Considering all the pressures that people, or their relatives, have suffered in the public administration or elsewhere not to sign, or even to withdraw their signature, it is a safe bet to assume that a large chunk of the population did not sign for the Recall Election but will be very motivated to vote against Chavez. This is the big, big advantage of the opposition, no matter what polls say, as this kind of determination only plays for Chavez if these opponents stay home as it is very unlikely they will return to Chavez. The numbers are rounded up to the highest or lowest digit as long as it favors Chavez. More >>

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