Venezuela’s D-8 Elections: A Stalemate
EspañolA few days out from another election, Venezuelans face one of the most strategic political decisions of the last decade. Each party is looking to win; but, what does that mean, “to win,” in the current sociopolitical context? Is electoral victory the best strategy for both the incumbent party and the opposition? A detailed analysis seems to indicate that it is not.
The Sociopolitical Framework
The disputed version of Socialism for the 21st Century, coined by the late lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez and his followers, has been based, briefly, in two basic principles: social division, or class war, and the unification of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of the state, under a sole figure — the president of the republic.
With 15 years of “revolution,” including the hand-off of presidential power in April 2013 to Nicolás Maduro, many of the changes are sufficiently well entrenched to continue submerging the country into the bottomless pit that leads, like a black hole, to the “sea of happiness.”
One of the most important, recent changes has been the slow transfer of political power to the people, by way of new regional jurisdictions, so-called community councils. These councils, or communes, are open to the participation of all community members — so long as they are approved by the current party’s government officials.
Like the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Cuba, these communes are nothing more than government surveillance cells aimed at furthering the revolution by excluding any citizen who is not loyal to revolutionary ideals. In the background, the communes seek to usurp the legitimate power of regional governments, receiving funds that should be directed to the parishes or municipalities but are instead now transferred to them to finance their surveillance of citizens.
What does this mean in practice?
The upcoming elections on December 8 are regional elections. That is, at stake is the election of municipal representatives in the country’s many jurisdictions. But if power has been transferred to the communes, what is the importance of the municipalities? In practical terms, none.
Given this, let’s look at the electoral options for each party in the D-8 elections.
The Opposition and the Story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf
In the early years, the Chávez regime confronted a divided opposition. When the opposition parties finally began to recognize their own disorganization, they committed the most crass error of the last 15 years: to withdraw their candidates from the parliamentary elections of 2005 in protest of alleged manipulation of the electoral system. As a result, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) won a majority in Congress, which permitted Chávez to assume absolute control of all powers. From that moment, even though the opposition finally organized itself, there was little it could do. The only option was to continue campaigning to discredit the government and question the transparency of the electoral process.
In every recent election, the opposition, headed by Henrique Capriles, has carried out the same strategy: (1) announce that the opposition is in the majority and that almost all of the polls indicate it will win with an ample margin (e.g., 7 October 2012, 7 April 2013, 8 December 2013); and, (2) cry wolf, like in Aesop’s fable, when the opposition loses, pointing to irregularities in the electoral system and the manipulation of votes and voters on the part of the government (e.g., 7 October 2012, 7 April 2013). Let’s see what he says after D-8.
There is little doubt irregularities exist in the electoral process. The problem for the opposition has been that they cry wolf (fraud) only to validate the system in the following election by encouraging supporters to vote.
The system is either clean, or it is not. If it is not transparent and legal, why would the opposition expect different results? As Albert Einstein said, the definition of insanity is “to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.”
Sadly, if the opposition wins a significant percentage of regional representatives, they will have their hands practically tied by the communes. In the short term, the opportunity to force change by winning the elections is useless.
Nevertheless, in the long term it is strategically vital that the opposition wins the most seats possible: not because they are going to exercise political change, but because the opposition needs to recover voters’ confidence, looking toward the eventual possibility of removing Nicolás Maduro from power through democratic means. Maduro, for his part, behaves as if he works for the opposition: the economic measures he has taken in the last few months have left Venezuela on the brink of an abyss. The population has put up with a lot, but everything has a limit. If things reach that limit, the resolution will not be peaceful.
In conclusion, it is in the best interest of the opposition to vote in large numbers. If they win a majority of votes, they should accept the victory quietly, rejoicing in the satisfaction of having obtained a majority and knowing that the majority can win the next round, when it is time for the presidential vote. If they do not win, they will have to figure out if the triumph of the ruling party was truly honest. If there are irregularities, they will need to follow them through to the end. To do otherwise would be the continuation of the sad story of a boy, the opposition, who cried wolf.
But if this is the strategy of the opposition, what should the ruling party do?
The Revolution Continues
The strategy of the ruling party seems much simpler, once the opposition’s position is analyzed. The 50 million dollar question is, should the ruling party rig the election (to ensure victory) or not? Or, more precisely, what does the ruling party gain by winning these elections? The answer is absolutely nothing. They already have the power of the communes. A few opposition politicians in positions of little or no relevance is not going to make a dent in the revolution.
By contrast, however, if they win the elections they would be shooting themselves in the foot. Given that the opposition must dispute the results if it believes there was fraud, and in a political-economic environment as fragile as the actual one, a dispute of this nature is something that Maduro should avoid.
Now, if it is true that the ideology of Chávez-Maduro continues to fill the minds and hearts of Venezuelans — because it certainly does not fill their stomachs — then it would be smart for the ruling party to rig the election results, in favor of the opposition.
If the opposition wins, they will have nothing to complain about, and Maduro can continue with the revolution using the figure of the communes and the supernatural powers with which he has been invested, including the ability to talk to little birds. The problem is really whether the bus driver-turned-president has the capacity to govern a country.
Eventually, Maduro will be removed from power. The big question is whether it will be by the ballot box in six years or much sooner, guns in hand, when the people say enough is enough.