The other primaries: ground rules for local election peering

If general attention is focused mostly on the presidential primaries of the opposition, for some of us who live in the hinterlands of Venezuela the picture is not necessarily set in the studios of Globovision or OpEd columns or blogs written from Caracas or outside the country.  Since Panorama faked debate was supposed to be about the regional proposals of the 6 musketeers, it is as a good a time to start looking into the other primaries, for governors and mayors.  The first post will be about PJ efforts in Miranda and Aragua while further posts will visit some important regional primaries but before we start, some ground rules, so to speak (so that other posts may be short and breezy).

The first thing to note is that if polling is hard to come for major candidates who have little money and keep close to their chest their cards, you can imagine how much more difficult it is for polling for governors or mayors.  In fact, the few polling one has access to sounds much more like poll wars than anything else.

The second thing to consider is that local primaries and presidential primaries affect each other a lot.  That is, if in a state PJ is running candidates, those will be helped by Henrique Capriles Radonski (HCR) relatively high polling numbers and vice versa.  But PJ candidates running in Zulia, if any, will have quite a hard time, no matter how high HCR performs, while this one may suffer in Zulia counts.

A third thing to observe is that the only candidates who have a reasonable slot of running mates elsewhere (PJ and UNT through HCR and Pablo Perez, PP respectively) three of the other candidates do not support much locals or are supported by few and yet their poll numbers, even if low, may have an effect on the local race (Arria for one has announced that he would not support any because he would have to work with all were he to become president, a posturing he may be regretting these days).  On this respect Voluntad Popular (VP) of Leopoldo Lopez (LL) is an exception of sorts as it has taken an early policy of supporting whomever is best even if that person is not supporting LL.  Though the lack of reciprocity has made VP run its own guys in many a joint.

In other words there is a lot of possible cross overs, the more so that a given governor candidate may be weak whereas the mayor one from the same party may be strong, but not strong enough to force a vote for the governor nominated.  As you will start to guess, prediction of results is rather difficult when you leave the 6 musketeers situation even though these local results could in the end have very specific consequences for them.  In Venezuela we have had some interesting surprises of vote changing at the last minute.  One of the recent examples was Grateron in Chacao who was barely ahead, supposedly closely followed by the UNT candidate and yet in the last 24 hours the pendulum shifted, he won handily, the UNT candidate got a dismal 4th position, BEHIND the chavista candidate, and for all practical purposes her career was over.

What I am trying to say is that if the presidential race is close, a couple of states could bring the decisive edge to one of the guys.  Equally, a strong lead by HCR could help a lot the PODEMOS and PJ lads running for smaller districts.  I know, I know, this is rather obvious, but what I am trying to convey is that for these primaries it may be a bigger consideration than for other electoral episodes, the more so that we are not used to primaries.  And even more if we add the immeasurable subjective factor that many people may still vote for the one they like knowing s/he will lose because they know that they will vote for the unity candidate anyway.

Finally, in spite of all of these caveats the local primaries will be a watershed election.  If they are not going to help much in deciding who will win the general election (governors are in a year and mayors in almost 1 and a half which is a life time in politics) they will be the first true and real measure on how far the new parties have advanced against the old ones.  That is, for the first time PJ, UNT will face up in enough places with AD and COPEI to see a new political who's of Venezuela while we see how recent upstarts fare (from VP to the PODEMOS and PPT combo to see how well they did in their post Chavez life).  In the end this will be the most important take home lesson of the February primaries.