The Venezuelan 2008 election: update 6- Shifting grounds?

The never ending wonder of elections is that they all have a dynamic of their own and the most certain result suddenly is not that certain, and not for the foreseeable reasons. Thus in the US late Spring almost brought us an early swear in of Obama. Today his lead is dangerously close to polls margin of error. In Venezuela also, early this year in spite of the December 2007 Chavez referendum loss, the opposition was given a good result by taking up to 8 governorships next November. Now it seems that odds are quite good for at least ten states and 8 only would start sounding as, well, under-achievement. Over the past two months two things have happened: chavismo administrative skills are seen as worsening; and the opposition manages overall a better unity than chavismo groups as the UNT/PJ show down seems to arrive to a term with a slight PJ advantage. In other words with two months left of campaign the panorama is improving for the opposition. But it is not something we should crow about: that improvement is due more to Chavez mistakes than any novel and brilliant strategy of the opposition. So, what else is new?

Chavismo problems

The highlight was the blackout of last Monday. If you are a NiNi and are forced to take everyday the overburdened Caracas Subway and you got stuck in it for who knows how long, as AC effect, weak already, faded fast, and as your 1.5 hour commute turned into a 3 hours road to hell, you are less likely to vote for Aristobulo Isturiz for Caracas mayor at large. It does not matter how happy you are when Chavez punishes the exploitative private sector in your name by having the state taking over increasing larger chunks of it: suddenly the realization that these takeovers are not going to bring anything good to you starts budding as you escape the subway station to face the crowds battling the scarce ground transportation, without any security service trying to put some order. The temptation to vote against Chavez's candidates in the local elections starts growing because you want, after 10 years of hot avenging air, your man to also deliver a few services. You know, just like giving him a gentle warning as you surely will vote SI in the next referendum anyway. Surely he must be told that revolution is not all that there is in life.

Even the Bolsheviks took great care to have a glittery subway system in Moscow.

If the blackout is the most startling example as it already happened twice this year, not mentioning all the other problems linked to the poor electrical grid, I could write similar chronicles using creeping food shortages, epidemics that government tries to hide, the insecurity that shows no sign of abating, the closing up of Barrio Adentro modules while hospitals show no sign of improvement, or describe how the morgues have become the latest scandals.

When I started writing this series I was thinking that the opposition needed to mobilize its base by joining to a “pothole” fixing platform a more general interest such as the constitutional violations. But now that chavismo is offering us daily proof of its incompetence and its obvious incapacity at solving anything I wonder if in fact the opposition campaign should simply focus and saying that they can do a better job than chavista candidates at picking up garbage. It might just be enough!

Opposition score settling

The main problem of the opposition remains the motivation of its voters as too many of its supporters are still threatening not to vote if this or that condition is not met, in particular the unity of all opposition behind single candidates. I will not go back on what is now just plain stupidity from people that are simply unable to see that the country is changing fast and the unity is in fact in better shape among us than within chavismo. The fact of the matter is that the opposition leadership could start forgetting about this decreasing vociferous minority as more and more NiNi are looking elsewhere to solve their daily problems. Opposition energies should be spent there, getting the weakening chavista voter that realizes Chavez cannot solve all, nor the people he appoints. In fact the recent lockjaw between Primero Justica and Un Nuevo Tiempo might indicate that this leadership is more confident and can actually afford to state its case more forcefully, being less afraid to lose voters by stern but discrete displays of disagreements.

UNT and PJ are both cursed with the Venezuelan politic disease: the search for the caudillo that will win elections for them (for that matter, chavismo is the poster boy group). In the case of PJ it is not too bad as Borges cannot impose himself charismatically, and because he also has some minor luminaries around him such as Capriles Radonsky who I saw warming up a room as no one else in PJ can do. But UNT was a vehicle to promote Rosales and when it embraced Leopoldo Lopez and the other PJ dissidents in 2006 it could never manage to get its bearings. In fact it is rumored that many inside UNT were not too unhappy when Leopoldo was banned from running as he was starting to crowd out Rosales… Thus, at least to me as an observer, it seemed that UNT had been out to reinforce its position by doing such last minute maneuvers as sending Ojeda at the time limit to register for Caracas mayor. This broke previous arrangements where if the first one at polls could not run the second one in opinion polls would become the “unity” standard bearer. Leopoldo subscribed happily to that as he thought, stupidly if I may say so, that he would be allowed to run. But when he was blocked UNT realized that the second in the race, Ledezma, was someone they could not stomach.

Did they not think of that before signing the unity agreement? Where they not aware that Ledezma was the only other viable option? Are they that irresponsible? But in my opinion it was rather infamous that Leopoldo chose to present himself as a martyr with no care for whom is the mayor of Caracas. Spoiled brat reaction if you ask me!

But the story is in fact more complicated because no one really liked Ledezma at either PJ or UNT. In fact PJ had been offering Ismael Garcia as a substitute but he was vetoed by UNT. So, what did PJ just did this week? It threw its support behind Ledezma, appearing a the same time the real “pro unity” guys and throwing a wrench at UNT. PJ also did a similar maneuver in Tachira, screwing Azocar of the UNT. And both maneuvers seem to be working. If PJ does not get additional unity candidates it at least makes sure that UNT did not profit from the inhabilitaciones crisis.

The surprising result of that UNT-PJ tug of war is that UNT could back down honorably, PJ looked good and the only guys that benefited form it are minor parties who were feeling taken for ride through the whole process. Apparently next week unity should be reached in Caracas and Tachira leaving only Bolivar and Yaracuy as the last messed up fronts (chavismo is messed up in Portuguesa, Guarico, Carabobo, Barinas, Yaracuy, and even Bolivar).

There is still the really embarrassing case of Chacao where the opposition fields three candidates (and it probably could field four and still win anyway). Though Chacao does not matter in the grand scheme of things, it is disproportionately bad publicity. But then again Leopoldo is to blame for that mess and as people start realizing this, they just lose interest for Chacao, as it should be. The funny thing about all of this is that Leopoldo self inflicted wounds might actually be favoring the opposition! Or, in other words, if he does not want to be left on the side he might want to consider to support energetically Ledezma soon.

-The end-