The 2008 election gambles: part 4, hazardous stakes

In previous posts we looked at Chavez motivations, at what his electoral strategy might be and what the opposition was trying to put together to do more than just contain chavismo. Now we can try to look at what the outcome might be. But first, a summary of the three previous posts, adding what is really at stake.

The stakes

Chavez imposes his needs on this election. Since his ambition to become president for life in legal ways has been cut short last December he is trying to find ways to counter the polls verdict. He does have a more than 4 years left to his term of office and he thus has certainly several options to try again. Unfortunately for him all depend on a strong showing comes November. That is, he must show that he has recovered the people trust and enthusiasm by winning a very large number of state houses and town halls.

It is very important to state that serious electoral observers all predict that chavismo at this point will win a majority of Governor Mansions, but these same observers also point out to the distinct possibility that winning a majority of state houses will not be enough for Chavez as these might not represent at all a majority of the popular vote. Where the opposition seems to be running strong these days is in the most populous states, henceforth the real battle ground is there for chavismo as this one is running somewhat better in smaller states.

Thus it is clear: even though we are facing local elections, the national stakes are clear even if not openly discussed.

The districts

There are 23 state houses at stake, with their legislative assemblies and the Mayor at Large for the five Caracas districts, a sort of supra state district (I will wait for a future post to write on town halls). I will not include the real Caracas district alone, Libertador, which is the remains of the Federal District and that could be counted as a 25 position. The thing is that it is not that important as the result of the Mayor at Large office depends a lot on its result. Besides, the Mayor at large winner (from five districts) is automatically a top runner for the presidency whereas the Libertador mayor when all is said and done is just that, a local mayor... From now one when I refer to Caracas Mayor I mean the Mayor at Large.

Thus we have 24 districts.

The possible results and their meaning

The opposition wins 5 or less. The opposition starts with 2 and thus has an advantage since the two it has will most certainly remain in its hands no matter what cheating chavismo tries. But adding only a couple of states will be considered a major defeat for the opposition, no matter which states it takes. Chavez will be able to dream again of presidency for life and will be able to work on a convenient excuse to try to get it again without the opposition hope for anything better than a second referendum barrage victory. But the new radical wave of chavismo, according to the projected candidates if they win, will make it much more uphill for the opposition to run a referendum campaign as the one it run last year. A resurgent chavismo will be much less amenable to maintain the already meager democratic forms.

The opposition wins 6. This is nearly a stalemate that in the long run will favor Chavez. Not good enough for the opposition to effectively thwart Chavez wishes, but already a significant stumbling block for his ambitions. The opposition will able to claim victory without looking to foolish, but any credibility to this victory will be gained ONLY if it takes at least three out of Zulia, Caracas, Carabobo and Miranda; that is, controlling 3 out of the 4 major electoral districts of Venezuela. Still, at 6 losses chavismo can claim a victory of sorts without looking too ridiculous. For one thing it will help polish its very tarnished image outside by making believe that democracy truly exists in Venezuela. It also will leave it with enough state houses to help Chavez in his plans, even if these will be more difficult as the opposition will have 6 official spokespeople instead of only 1 currently, Zulia's governor Rosales (Nueva Esparta current governor rarely seeks national limelight).

The opposition wins 7 or 8. I make a special distinction here because as we will see later, such a result almost implies that the opposition will control the 4 major electoral districts of Venezuela. This is the first scenario where chavismo still wins a majority of the state house but could manage to lose the popular vote. With this result, the opposition will be perceived by all as the victor. It might not be enough to weaken Chavez to the point of questioning his hold on Miraflores, but clearly a 7-8 states victory will greatly improve the opposition options, from a possible Recall Election on the National Assembly to building an effective public opinion pressure to force the government to change its ways and compromise under the threat of using diverse referendums to annul some of its measures; at least until the next electoral round, the National Assembly election November 2010.

The opposition wins more than 8. The opposition now is the clear winner, no questions, no spin possible. The more so that with more than 8 states it is almost certain to win the popular vote victory. The personal rule of Chavez is now seriously compromised. How long will he last? It all depends on his ability to compromise and accept that he is gone in 2013, thus needing to plan for a successor, trying to get him or her elected to ensure himself with a nice retirement, out of jail. The timetable will be set on how many state houses the opposition wins. If the number is above 10, it will be difficult for Chavez to finish his term; nor will he be very interested in doing so. His best bet might be to call for a new constituent assembly in 2010, as a last gamble that he could actually win if the opposition counts its chickens too fast.

Let's not forget that such a large opposition victory could allow chavismo to deflect some of the blame for its failures on the new governors. By 2010 the constant war between Chavez and the new governors could wear them out faster than Chavez. There is a need even in front of an hypothetical large victory to remain a united front because Chavez will take advantage of any breach. In my opinion of the opposition manages 10 states it should immediately call for a Recall Election on the National Assembly. Any dithering in a strong federal front formation could have unforeseen consequences.

Yet, nothing will be solved no matter what is gained by an eventual large opposition victory. In such a scenario we could fairly speak of downward count for Chavez, perhaps even sped up by a sudden massive defection form chavista rank and file now that their guy is perceived as on his way out. In the end it will again depend on how united the opposition will remain since even with a 12 state house loss chavismo would still be the main single political force in Venezuela. A minority force now but still the largest group of them all.

In the next and last post I will look at the state by state situation.

-The end-