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Hugo Chavez sets his electoral strategy

By Daniel Duquenal

14.06.06 | Some recent developments have led me to be convinced that there will be no fair election in December, and probably no election at all. I think that the government has cast its lot and decided that its objective is to have a large abstention movement in front. This can be reached easily: making all opposition candidates withdraw or get a weak one to run, one that will be unable to rally a dispirited opposition around himself. The risks have been weighed and as far as I can tell the decision has been taken. How could this happen?

The December opposition pseudo victory

It all started in December 2005. When the international observers saw that indeed the gadgetry of the CNE could be used to eliminate the secret of vote the consequence was of course a withdrawing of the opposition and an abstention officially of 75%. That the finger catching machines were actually used as extensively as claimed is another debate: the fact here is that it was possible. Whether 25% or only 18% actually voted for Chavez’s list is equally irrelevant: the fact that 25% or less bothered to vote is a clear sign of political decomposition. The reactions, be them from Chavez team, or those read from the occasional chavista visitor to this page all indicate that chavismo had been dealt quite a blow then.

Unfortunately as it seems to be always the case, the opposition was unable to capitalize on this surprising victory. Simply put, the main proponents of the abstention movement had no plan B, their only offer not to vote ever again until Chavez gets fired.

This lack of creativity quickly turned out to Chavez advantage. No country broke up relations with Venezuela. If they became more careful in their deals and certainly less warm in the support from some, it remained that Venezuela and Chavez kept trotting along as if the new 100% red assembly was the most legitimate group around. Carrying a fat wallet certainly helps ugly people look less disgusting.

There was also, quite a fair bet, Castro advice. Castro has been ruling Cuba since 1958 without ever holding a election worth anything. And that has not stopped him, without an underground sea of oil, from dealing with pretty much anyone around, to the point of taking a few for a ride. So, why should Chavez worry about legitimacy if Castro never worried about it?

The new CNE

At some point in the weeks that followed the December set back the decision was taken to maintain the opposition in an abstentionist mood. The first step was to name a new CNE that would not bring any trust in the electoral system. See, there was that need to pretend that all was legal, that the opposition and international observers complaints were met. That is why Jorge Rodriguez was sacked from the CNE. Oh, he will return to the government one way or another some day, Chavez does not have too many competent but evil people around; regrettably Rodriguez had to take hit because, well, he was becoming too popular among chavistas for the liking of the beloved great leader who must make sure that no one around him could ever cast the faintest shade on him.

But if Rodriguez had to go it was not a problem: Chavez had the henchwoman at hand. Tibisay Lucena was the right hand of Rodriguez. While he was on TV pretending that the CNE was running the best operation in the world, she was the one doing the dirty work. Eventually she got her prize.

Of course nobody was fooled. The new CNE has already demonstrated to be even worse than the past one, a one sided pro Chavez affair with a lone rarely dissenting voice just for show. But the latest event seems to indicate that perhaps the skilled hand of Rodriguez is missing. Unless, of course, direct provocation is what is now wanted.

The refusal to audit the Electoral rolls

Among the scores of problems in the electoral system of Venezuela, the biggest one might be the composition of the electoral rolls. This one has ballooned in a very suspicious way, to say the least. People without a street address count in the millions. People with serially repeated names have ceased to be a novelty. Districts where there are more electors than inhabitants are not a rarity. Electors with such cute names as XX (I kid you not) are popping out here and there, and many more amusing details. Amusing if it were not that in addition ballots are not counted so there is no way to tell if elector XX did vote, or if elector Jon Doe voted thousands of times. Because of course if all paper ballots were actually counted the electoral roll could be twice the population of the country, we would not get more votes than the amount of people who actually went out to vote. End of discussion.

Last year the CNE had accepted a “lite” audit by some organization called CAPEL. They limited themselves to look at some inconsistencies within the electoral roll. Sure enough they did find some but nothing worth writing home about. Thus this year the three main Venezuelan universities offered a new system to audit the Electoral Registry, a system that would actually compare it to the latest census, among other testing means. Imagine that!

The CNE at first pretended to be open to the idea but when it realized that the proposal was forthcoming, it diluted the effort by bringing in inexperienced universities. The leader of this counter proposal, a rehash of CAPEL, was the 2003 founded Bolivarian University, a university that has yet to graduate its first student, a University that has had three rectors already, one of them dismissed under accusations of corruption, the current rector being only a provisional one while he holds the vice-ministry of something in the corresponding joint. How could the Bolivarian pseudo-University undertake such a titanic project and how could the CNE dare say that their project was the best one presented? Yeah, right, the best one to preserve the convenient secrets imbedded in the Electoral Registry.

On the anecdotic part, no mean was too small not to be used to discredit the independent universities proposal. One morning, for example, I watched as a member from the discredited National Statistics Institute, INE, was dispatched to state TV “En confianza” to demonstrate that the latest census could not be used to study the variability within the electoral registry because, you know, the census includes people that are not allowed to vote... Maybe the ratio between men and women is different in the census than in the electoral registry? Please...

The implications

Because the crux of the matter is that if too many real irregularities are discovered, then all the electoral processes since 2000 would be called into question and that is certainly not something that chavismo is willing to risk. Unfortunately for the CNE the courageous stand of the three independent universities is hurting its image bad enough that the CNE cannot afford to dismiss them outright as it is so clearly and painfully obvious from the press releases coming from that den, and the faces reading them.

That is why it has come clear to me that there will not be a serious audit before December, and more than likely no real concessions will be granted by the CNE. The CNE not only cannot afford to be discovered for the trickeries it has been doing all along, but it will reinforce them so as to discourage opposition voters to go to the polls. Who cares if chavistas go or not, the ballots will be printed anyway and empty polling stations will manage to yield the promised 10 million votes. Chavez knows already that observers are not likely to come this time, and that people will still do business with him because they need our oil.

It is working, so far. In addition from distracting the campaign from all the miseries of Venezuela (Las Mercedes was again closed today by a protest BY CHAVISTAS, creating yet another gigantic gridlock in Caracas) it is creating a serious problem for the wanna-be opposition candidates as inexplicably some are unable to take a strong stand against the CNE. Only Teodoro Petkoff seems grudgingly to go towards what will be the inevitable confrontation. Borges seems like a fool and Rosales the perfect Cheshire Cat. If the candidates do not do something about the CNE soon enough, they will not be able to rally folks if miraculously conditions were to improve, and will find themselves alone at the polls.

But it is not enough that Chavez is able to distract the country from his misdeeds by having people endlessly discuss the CNE shenanigans, it is not enough that abstention seems again to be gaining ground even if all sorts of pundits (including yours truly) want to fight for our right to vote until the bitter end. I am afraid that Chavez is actually thinking deliberately about canceling the election altogether. He has been toying with the idea of a plebiscite for a while and experience has taught us that what he himself thought of as a mere provocation, he makes it eventually a state policy. He is crazed enough for power.

Castro did say that elections were a waste of time. Who is Chavez to disagree?

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