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To vote or not to vote: an acute question in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal

25.10.04 - It has become very fashionable in some opposition sectors to scream loud and clear that there is an electoral fraud going on and the only way to protest is to create a massive abstention movement to de-legitimize the chavista candidate that will win by forfeit.

This sounds really good, particularly on TV.

Unfortunately it is totally unrealistic, and in addition, as Talleyrand would say, "plus qu'un crime, une faute" more than a crime, a blunder (1). The crime is that it will be serving on a silver platter to chavismo states and cities that normally would never be won by them, succulent dishes such as Caracas and Miranda state. The inhabitants of those areas would suffer the consequences to a degree that they cannot imagine. The blunder is that after such a loss it will be very, very difficult for the opposition to recover, and Chavez will have an even easier time of his re-election in 2006.

Let me track back in time. In April 1999 a lot of people were preaching the abstention for the referendum on calling a new constituent assembly. The reason was that it was illegal to call a referendum which figure was not included in the 1961 constitution and that this 1961 document had to be amended first. That was all very fine and true except that the Supreme Court caved in to Chavez and allowed for the referendum on some unclear principles of "soberania popular" (popular sovereignty). The result was striking, 90% voted Yes, but only 40% voted. As a consequence 36% of the country asked to write a new constitution that now bears heavily on 100% of us...

There is one great saying in French: Les absents ont toujours tort (The absents always carry the blame). This applies to some office question such as "who the f... screwed up the photocopier again?!" which answer is invariably someone out at coffee break or on sick leave. It applies even better to politics: "you could not be bothered to vote, so stop complaining!"

And this is the crux of the matter: you cannot claim that your vote has been stolen by electoral fraud if you did not go an deposit it!!!!!!!

For all of these people that are promoting abstention I have a simple question: what do you offer in exchange? Will you be picketing at the poll stations? Will you block access highways? And if you just stay home on Sunday, what will you do once Barreto has been proclaimed Mayor at Large for Caracas? I really want to know! I am even willing to follow if your plan is sound!

I understand that there is a major electoral fraud going on, that many town halls will be lost because of irregularities in the electoral registry. But they are not going to be saved if people stay home and do not protest actively. If you do not want to vote on October 31 for fraud, then you must take to the streets, NOW! If not, do not dare coming to me and complain on November first.

On September 14 this blogger wrote:

"But if you [the opposition leadership] are not standing next to me, or ahead of me at the march, I will not be there next or behind you. If you do not fight nails and claws against the CNE, I will stay home and watch cable TV."

If people do not sense a good support for Tulio Alvarez, a dynamic electoral campaign entrusted to the local guys, a hint of new blood in the fossilized Caracas apparatchiks, and I am not talking of Pompeyo, a transfer of more responsibilities to us in the provinces who know better what is going on in the country than a Prados del Este garden party, we will stay home on voting day.

I was only too prescient.

That is our drama, the provinces have moved, the governors are still fighting nails and claws with the CNE, but the Caracas prima donnas are sabotaging us, as well as AD who is more interested in remaining alone with Chavez than ousting Chavez.

I will go and vote. Even though I am perfectly aware of the electoral problems, of the lousy leadership we have in the opposition. Staying home only favors Chavez, vacuous politicians that love to posture, and AD/Copei. And on November first I will be able to claim electoral fraud. Democracy and freedom are earned, they are never granted.

Wake up! Voting is the only way that you will have to punish the opposition leadership: they will have lost their town halls for the fraud that they could not face, for the unity they could not reach. If you stay home, they will blame you! And we will not be able to boot them! We will lose our chances to get real leaders, or at least eliminate the weak ones!

Finally a thought. If you do not go and vote, Chavez will not need to cheat. Heck! He might even order all the ballot boxes to be counted, every single vote by every single vote. He will be able to claim that he won fair and square. And the whole world will accept the result. Thus you will remain "sin el chivo y sin el mecate" (without the goat and the rope, an expression that loses a lot in translation) (2)

Of course, feel free to use the blogger e-mail button below to circulate this post to the folks you know will be at the beach on October 31, that is, if we have elections that day which still remains to be seen.


(1) Talleyrand was the foreign minister of Napoleon and said those words on the unnecessary execution of the Duke of Enghein. This unjustified political crime by Napoleon actually alienated the royal houses of Europe that were grudgingly starting to accept his Consulate regime. War broke out soon until Europe finally got rid of him 14 years later.

(2) note added in proof: AIO suggested "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" as a translation. I agree. I also messed up the post when I edited it so this version might not be quite the same as the one an hour ago. Sorry!

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