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The consequences of Venezuela's recall, part VI

By Daniel Duquenal

Part 6: the opposition options

One wonders what are the options for the opposition. With an administrative system stacked against any inroads that it could make, with a Chavez bent on revenge and "extirpating" any trace of previous regimes (as if his entourage was not saturated with professional political survivors starting with the vice president himself) what could a few more marches do? However the opposition still does have some options, and we could best describe them in time frames.

THE IMMEDIATE NEEDS OF THE OPPOSITION: REORGANIZATION AND A STRATEGY FOR THE REGIONAL ELECTIONS

Right now there are many voices, too many if you ask me, that are asking for a profound shake up of the CD leadership. Others are simply refusing to go to the regional elections which is quite a nonsense. Unfortunately for all of the opposition angst, the regional elections, now for late October, are too important to give up. Losing the state houses and townhalls still barring Chavez's march toward absolute centralization would be a major mistake. Certainly going to elections knowing that the result is pre-set would be an equal mistake. But we still have a few weeks before making such drastic decisions. People should calm down a little bit and cross these bridges when they are reached.

But something has to be done. The opposition must prepare real fast a campaign strategy for the local elections where it stands a better chance to resist, where some popular and genuine leaders could bring in a few pleasant surprises. For example, it would be a clear message of political civility for Carabobo governor to beat the chavista challenger Acosta Carles, one of the most brutish military that chavismo has thrown at us (he is the famous general of the burp that went around the world during the big strike).

Clearly, the opposition leadership at the CD has been beaten on August 15. It failed at conveying a message different than "Chavez is bad" (which even some people that voted for Chavez share!). It failed to meet the "fraud" challenge. But worse than all, it failed to have a plan B. As the days pass, the lack of plan B, the self delusion that Chavez would play clean and give up power is haunting the CD leadership and utterly discrediting it.

But is it wise to throw the leadership out "en masse"? No. It should be given time to resign on its own. This is already happening as Juan Fernandez (the communicational director of the campaign, ex PDVSA leader) seems on the way out. Mendoza's star is fading fast and I predict that he will quit the leadership with the elegant excuse of working to retain his Miranda state. Some less responsible for the present mess are already doing the right thing, such as Rafael Alfonso. He negotiated in all sincerity during the difficult months of the strike and thereafter. He was one of those that had to be convinced to sign the agreement of May 2003, agreement that he knew had few chances to prosper. He still went ahead and fought hard for his cause and lost. He is resigning from his function within the CD to go on his own to other political tasks, while probably he is one of the few that could claim a seat in the CD with a "I told you!".

Some seem to cling to their CD seat. I think that the only way the CD can recover some credibility among its own supporters is by doing two things: trimming down and renew the leadership.

Trimming means putting on the side too many people that represent little or are not real politicians. It means that Non Governmental Organizations, NGO, must gather among themselves and send only a limited number of representatives. That is, they should be allowed to provide ideas and be a transmission mechanism between the civil society and the CD, but not obstruct its functioning by endless reunions. We are not anymore in a political battle, but a political war that professionals should be leading. Our society has forgotten that political campaigns must be conducted by political parties and not enlightened amateurs, we are paying the price of spitting too much on the necessary evil for democracy that political parties are.

Trimming also means that the only parties that should be represented are the ones that do actually hold elected office. It means that new parties that want to join should do like NGO, create an umbrella on their own and send representatives. Right now the country must save the few positions that are still able to slow down the centralization appetites of Chavez. And if indeed he has 60% of the people behind him, there are meager pickings for new political ventures.

It would be good that the CD leadership be assumed now, at least until after the regional elections, by those governors and mayors who need to run the campaign to preserve their office. The campaign is going to be running on who did what and when, not that much on what Chavez says. Cross voting is very common in Venezuela, in 2000 Chavez swept most states and yet in some of these states the opposition governors got sometimes even more votes than Chavez did. The rest of the political leadership of the CD should try to redeem itself by forcing the CNE to make amends and modify the electoral system in such a way as to make results acceptable by both sides. They can also keep working on the fraud but that should not detract form the main goals: clean election in October and vigorous campaign. The best demonstration of fraud would be to retain all of our state houses and pick at least a couple of Chavez, where at least two are right for the picking.

AFTER OCTOBER 31

The results of the Regional Elections certainly will determine the strategy of the opposition. However there are some basic things that must be worked out.

1) Negative campaigning alone will not suffice as long as the price of oil is above 40 USD. Chavez will have enough money to do populist stuff, and some of these measures might actually work out enough to secure his reelection in 2006, even with fair elections, which I already doubt. The opposition must start to bring something new to the debate besides "Chavez is bad". We all know that already, and many chavistas agree. But they will not change sides until we offer them something else. Such are people: "what is in it for me?"

2) A mechanism for selection of a national leader will have to be set. Since the odds of changing the constitution to a two round balloting system are nil, the only option left for the opposition is a primary on their own. But the primaries should be as late as possible since Chavez is a formidable campaigner and one that has no qualms in running through the mud any opponent. There is no politician in Venezuela that could resist three months of Chavez obscenities thrown at him or her.

3) But to get a primary, we need first to let leaders develop their programs and submit them to vote in the primaries. That way the ideas would be known and accepted before the leader is elected. This is trickier to do as the winner should impose his program but the main losers should be able to incorporate theirs to some extent to allow mobilization of their own followers. One way to do so would be by offering a constitutional amendment for a 4 year term and one single immediate reelection. I would even go as far as saying that whoever runs against Chavez in 2006 should announce that he would leave after 4 years, no matter what. It is time for the opposition to assume its responsibility in front of history before Chavez takes us back to a primitive and centralized state where mediocrity will reign sovereign such as it reigns in Cuba, Zimbabwe, Libya, or Algeria, countries which are the real role model for him.

If not, may the deity help us!




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