To vote or not to vote in the Venezuela Presidential election. Is that even a question?
By Miguel Octavio
Caracas |14.10.06 I have been meaning to address the question of whether to vote or not in the upcoming presidential elections for quiet a while. Maybe I am still early in addressing it, but wanted to make sure I did, because there are lots of comments and emails on the subject.
First of all, recall that I am a firm believer that there was cheating in the 2004 recall referendum. From a statistical point of view, it is clear that the results were tampered with. Having said that, these studies can tell there was cheating, but they are not capable of saying by how much. Thus, when I say there was cheating, I can not guarantee that the opposition actually won, although the three exit polls do suggest we did.
As a result of the frustration derived from that result, the opposition basically demobilized itself, disappointed in the leadership from the opposition and believing that it would be hard or next to impossible to dislodge the autocrat. Despite this, the opposition actually voted in the October 2004 elections in numbers that do not reflect the intuition of most Venezuelans. Then came the 2005 parliamentary elections. A week before they were to take place, it was discovered that despite assurances that this could not happen, the voting machines kept the sequence of the vote, so that it would be easy to reconstruct who voted for which candidate.
The opposition pulled out after this. While there is a generalized perception that the conflict arose over the discovery of the possibility of the knowing the sequence led to the opposition abstaining, it was more complicated than that. In the end, it was the arrogant reaction of the CNE to the discovery that really complicated matters. Jorge Rodriguez began making offers to “solve” the problem which in the end did nothing but complicate matters. Basically, he offered to “protect” the identity of the voters suing technological solutions like erasing the disks that would not have erased it in the end. Between this and the disgust at the discovery, the opposition simply pulled out, despite an eleventh hour effort by the CNE which decided to withdraw the fingerprints machines as a gesture to bring the opposition back. Curiously, it was Manuel Rosales who pit the nail in the coffin, when he announced that his party was withdrawing.
In some sense, withdrawing from the 2005 elections has had a positive effect. In the absence of the opposition in the Parliament, Chavistas began fighting among themselves and whenever they grabbed the stage, they had nobody to snap at, since they were running the whole show. Since Chavismo ahs always appeared to be in the opposition rather than Government, this actually did not help. As an example, whenever an investigation was carried out by the national assembly, it was the discrepancies between the different chavistas groups which surfaced, rather than between chavistas and the opposition.
What has changed now is that the opposition basically has had no leadership since the recall vote or a leadership that it had little trust in. In the absence of that Chávez was clearly in the lead and the group in between kept growing.
As expected, Teodoro Petkoff was his usual bad as a candidate, while Julio Borges could not wipe out his yuppie image (I am being benevolent in this assessment), so it came down to the experienced politician, Manuel Rosales, who actually jumped ahead in the polls without even bothering to declare that he was a candidate. This stopped the possibilities of the primaries as Petkoff never had more than 9% in any poll, while Rosales consistently got 11-15%. Borges showed some strength until Rosales name was included with him in a short list.
And this was the main reason while withdrawing since June or July made no sense. If you had no chance what was the sense of withdrawing? If the people are not mobilized, what was the sense of withdrawing? Chavez and his supporters would simply argue we withdraw because we do not want to lose.
Recall that Toledo in Peru went into an election almost certain that he would be cheated if he won. He won and was cheated, but the whole county and the international community were then convinced that there was cheating and the rest is history as Toledo became President of Peru exactly one year to the day, after Fujimori was sworn in as President.
The point is that it was actually the widespread belief that there was fraud that eventually led to Fujimori’s demise. That is precisely what we need to achieve, go to the election and either win, win or be cheated and fight or simply lose. The latter is one of the possibilities and if we do lose, we will have to accept it as a democratic outcome and bear with it.
But we can not be cheated. That is why the CNE should make the election completely transparent. If there is so much mistrust, why not count all the ballots, all the boxes, eliminate the fingerprint machines and audit everything? What are they afraid of? Why not prove Chavez is sooo popular? Easy, they are not sure, they want to have the option to twist the election at will if necessary. And that is why we have to go and try to win and if the election is stolen, be ready to prove it, show it and fight for it.
If there is one thing we have learned is that we are dealing with people with no scruples. Not even the biggest cynic in the old and now defunct Coordinadora Democratica ever thought the 128 audits the night of the RR would not take place, or the voting machines would transmit information before the vote was completed, or two of the Directors of the CNE would not be allowed to go into the computer room, or the random number generator would be an idiotic one provided by the CNE or Carter would give his Peanut Farmer seal of approval to the results without even inspecting anything.
Hopefully we have learned to be alert and ready for it and there will be no surprises on Dec. 3d. Personally, I give a lot of weight to eliminating the fingerprint machines because I truly think they instill fear in people. On those that support Chavez because they fear that if the vote blank or for the other candidate, they will lose their job, mission rights or they will be retribution. On those that oppose Chavez, because they think they may lose their jobs and be forever identified as the enemy.
I do think we have an edge. I actually believe that people are disillusioned and tired of Chavez. There is fear, so the solution is simply not to go vote. On the other hand those that oppose Chavez, if motivated, have little to lose, they have been blacklisted already and they want Chavez think we can have more abstention on the pro-Chavez side than the opposition, which would mean that even if Chavez “has” a majority we can win.
Chavez and his cohorts face a difficult decision. If they lose, the corruption and mismanagement will come to light and they could all be prosecuted for it. The level of corruption is such, that they could not hide everything. And therein lays our biggest danger. The instinct of self-preservation is simply too strong and they will try to win no matter what.
But in some sense, I feel that the best outcome is for us to win and have the Government cheat in a very obvious way. A Government like that will simply not last.
There is a plan. There is a very detailed plan to make sure that everything is done. There will be at least three Rosales people per booth, without counting those that support him that were randomly selected to run the polling stations. That is a difference between the RR and this, in this election candidates have rights and Rosales is getting ready for it. These three people will make sure that the official tally and the audit tally are sent out immediately. Any major difference would be evident. There are other plans to monitor irregularities, get the media and minimize a possible surprise by the people without scruples, etc.
Can they cheat? Of course, but there are plans to minimize it and if we can get our people mobilized, we could pull a big surprise. I used to know a well known pollster here in Venezuela; he used to tell me not to watch the levels, to watch the trends, the slopes. He is now dead, but he was around in the 1998 elections and when Chavez was still in second place he told me he could not lose; he had gone from 5% to 19% too fast. I wonder what he would say today about Rosales’ slope. After all, six weeks ago, we could not have envisioned the Avalancha, Rosales being such a good candidate, people being so motivated.
Thus, the question of whether to vote or not is to me irrelevant. I will go and vote as a first step to recover the rights we have lost and mobilize people against this autocracy once and for all. The rest, is a matter of fighting for our rights.
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