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Political firestorm in Venezuela

By Daniel Duquenal | Venezuela News and Views

30.11.05 | Today must have been one of the most complex days in recent Venezuelan history. The political firestorm was unleashed last Wednesday when the CNE was caught cheating, and even worse, suspected of cheating on a much grander scale than what it was caught doing. Thus in short order we got a riot of news over the week end, an ultimatum to the CNE, a cave in of this one, and a massive quitting from the winning party. Huh? How come?

I think it is too early to try to explain this. Besides this fearless blogger was traveling today and barely made it home. The extensive driving meditation did not clear his head much anyway. However there is one thing which is always useful: to list the basic facts, as they are known, and hope that with time somehow it will all make sense (note: no links given as many of these facts have already been extensively discussed in this blog, and the way things are going, today’s link might become tomorrow nincompoopery)

The Venezuelan electoral system is fraudulent.

Whether the finger print scanners are used next Sunday has become irrelevant. Now, the whole country is convinced, be it true or not, that the CNE has been monitoring who voted for what since August 2004. Jorge Rodriguez as the head of the CNE can brandish any little poll with favorable numbers, it is irrelevant. In a country which has been subjected to the Tascon fascist list where anyone on it could be barred from public jobs, education or social services, few will be brave enough to reply accurately to a pollster. Thus the consistent incongruence seen in polls since 2004.

As a reminder I will recall some of the other factors that must be addressed before any election in Venezuela can be considered legitimate: publication and subsequent verification of voter rolls; real immediate audit on a significant sample of polling stations; controlling the executive abuse when it helps its candidates; making the CNE composition even handed as today ALL of regional delegates and perhaps more than 90% of its personnel is affiliated with chavismo; and more. It is simply impossible to run a fair election in Venezuela if those issues are not addressed. In short, it probably will require manual balloting with a new CNE board to “start” restoring some confidence in elections.

Anyone that dares to comment on the Venezuelan situation ignoring these simple facts is either a fool, or trying to manipulate the audience. I mean it.

The abstention camp is the winning one.

All polls have something in common though: they reflect an increasingly large abstention in Venezuelan elections. In addition to the lack of trust in the CNE, there is also the “tired” factor of a country used to vote only once every 5 years and now forced to vote once to twice a year. But even more, there is a sense everywhere that Chavez has made the country his and that voting simply is a useless waste of time as nothing will change. This is what is provoking the most the chavista abstention, and what hurts it, or even scares it. A populist government needs to prove itself all the time and victories with increased margins are simply meaningless if the polling stations are, well, empty. Perhaps one reason that some in the opposition are so willing to use the abstention card, disingenuously, is simply because chavismo is unable to come to grips with the fact that it is neutering its own followers.

The opposition lack of unity is perhaps its main downfall.

I am not discussing “programmatic unity” here, as the opposition goes from Bandera Roja to right wing military groups. No, any unity besides protecting democracy from Chavez is impossible and unrealistic. Still, the constant attacks on democracy by chavismo should be enough for the opposition to come up with some electoral strategy that all can stick to. After all, it did happen in 2003 when against all odds and all treachery, the recall election was called. But the opposition is unable to hold long to any unity. And this time is no exception. Managing to put together an electoral alliance, it did so late and meekly. Still, it managed to corner the CNE into surrendering the finger printing set up.

But that did not last much. Apparently the decision of political parties to go or not to go on next Sunday vote seems to have been taken independently. That is, none of them seems to have been much worried about the effect on their decision on the hard sought opposition unity. Why? It is too early to say. Some probably sensing that the polls would be particularly bad for them found it to be a perfect excuse. But I doubt it is the case as the electoral alliance allows many parties to mask their weakness. Quitting can only show they lack of support if other remain in the run. As Petkoff lamented today, that general disbanding can come to be a major disaster for the opposition.

The divorce between the opposition and its electorate seems getting worse.

The abstention camp within the opposition has always been a thorn in the side of the political parties. This comes from the dismal attitude of the political parties on August 16, 2004. Since then, not a single party has been able to reestablish a minimum of trust between its leaders and their electors. The October 2004 regional elections where the opposition could have hoped to maintain at least half of its positions was a serious omen as the abstention sunk most opposition candidates, allowing chavismo with already a diminished voting force to carry almost all anyway. That chavismo failed to see its own omen does not excuse the opposition who went on to leave most town halls into the hands of chavismo in august 2005, with even higher abstention.

Now, the striking news in these past two days is a groundswell support for abstention. Even this blogger met a few people who were going to vote a few days ago and now will not, even if political parties decide to go. It is not the time to discuss yet if this is a final suicide for the opposition or the start of a major coup against chavismo, but the fact is that this increased abstention movement, and a vocal one at that, is there to trump everything. Political parties that dare to buckle that tide might find themselves quite bruised on Monday 5…

But one should not be surprised. Unable to come to grips with their dismal role in August 2004, opposition parties have been unable to offer convincing apologies to their voters, even less to renew a discredited leadership and thus became totally unable to motivate the voters back to the good fight. They are just harvesting the consequences of their errors.

Final words for tonight.

It is a mess. It could end up as a severe defeat for Chavez. It could end up as the final gasp for the opposition. One thing is certain, and clear to the world: the Venezuelan electoral system sucks big time. But regular readers of this blog have known that for a long time.

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