19 September 2010

Bolivarians Will Win Big In Assembly Elections

It is never easy for outside observers to call election results correctly in Venezuela and election surveys are often partisan in that country. Depending on its degree of rabidity, Opposition factions have either been claiming that Chavez and his party will lose control of the National Assembly in the September 26 elections or that the two camps are almost at level terms.

This, of course, serves a purpose or two. Tall claims shore up the morale of the mostly upper and middle class Opposition voters who, in their blind class and race rage, seem to have retreated from the reality of their country. More “reasonable” claims of close elections have another advantage: if the Bolivarians win big, the Opposition can cry fraud as they have done in the past. The Chavez camp has said it will recognise the results whatever it be; Opposition has mostly refused to do the same.

Gregory Wilpert of Venezuela Analysis seems to have fallen for the close-elections prognosis. He argues that many Chavez supporters will abstain because they are not happy with the pace and quality of the government’s work: “And so my guess is that a lot of people who would normally vote for Chávez … they're going to abstain”; “… a certain amount of fatigue that has set in… a lot of problems… have accumulated, and particularly in an election year”.

In an excellent analysis of the complexities of the Venezuelan revolution, Steve Ellner, who has lived in that country for years, somewhat uncharacteristically speaks of “a natural wearing-out process”. These are fairly similar arguments though Wilpert and Ellner could not have been clearer about the moral bankruptcy of the Opposition.


GIS XXl is a Venezuelan polling organisation headed by a one-time Chavez minister, Jesse Chacon. Nevertheless, it has the best track record among Venezuelan opinion tracking firms in predicting past elections. This time, it predicts a 68% participation in the Assembly elections. This if far higher than normal and does not bode well for the abstention hypothesis. The hypothesis of Chavez supporters not turning out in large numbers falls on another logic: the D and E economic segments comprise roughly 75% of the population. They have been the biggest gainers of the government’s policies and most empowered by the revolution. They are not entirely uncritical but know that a protest abstention will hurt them the most if the Opposition sneaks in, especially as money for the many misiones (missions) has to be approved by the National Assembly. The abstention, if anything, will be more pronounced among the Opposition supporters. Albert Nolia, an independent-minded Venezuelan broadcaster, has been saying for some time now that many anti-Chavez voters will stay at home rather than vote for the same old capos who dominate the Opposition ranks. There is a logistical reason why the turnout will be higher this time. More voting centres are being set up in the barrios, making it easier for the poor to vote.

Narrow Victory?

GIS XXl also gives the Chavista-Communist alliance (PSUV-PCV) more than two-thirds majority as the most likely outcome of the elections (124-41), curiously the same as the Opposition-aligned Datanalisis firm, which later tried to play down its own findings. El Nuevo Herald, a rabidly anti-Chavez Miami newspaper, now says that the aggressive campaign by Chavez is taking the wind out of the Opposition sails. The final confirmation of impending Opposition defeat comes from the arch anti-Communist Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa, who has begun to squeal about electoral manipulation in Venezuela and how Chavez can only be got rid through a popular uprising.

Díaz Rangel, editor of the independent Venezuelan newspaper, Ultimas Noticias, says the Opposition’s weakness is that it has very little presence in the places where the majority of the Venezuelan poor and lower middle classes live. The PSUV has never been as united and organised as this time. There are close to some two million volunteers working for it. The party claims four million assured votes and is looking for up to five million more from among the 12 million voters expected to turn out on election day. President Chavez has been out on his campaign trucks and the support seems to have taken even him by surprise. “This smells of 2012,” is how he put it in reference to the next presidential election. The official campaign was first named Operation Demolition after the enormous mobilisations but has now been renamed Operation Willian Lara in memory of a Bolivarian state governor who recently died in a road accident.

The Opposition campaign, missing from the streets, has been conducted through the print and visual media, which remain overwhelmingly hostile to the revolution and with support from the Catholic hierarchy scare mongering about the dangers of Cuban communism. There is no single Opposition leader with detectable popular support; the faction chiefs they have are at war with one another; they almost all come from the upper classes and, in confirming that in victory they will do away with the laws and initiatives which allow for the popular health, education and housing missions, have confirmed their reactionary stripe. A good Opposition showing will then somehow have to come out of nowhere.

It is always foolish to predict elections. It could be that Ellner and Wilpert are right and that the Chavistas are heading for a poor to mediocre showing, though not defeat. If that is indeed how it turns out, I salute their prescience (I’m not being sarcastic) and would like to admit in advance that I was wrong and they were right. If not, I suggest they were let down by their tools of analysis developed in mainstream political science geared to understanding Western liberal democracies — that governments eventually become unpopular and the other side wins in a sort of endless cycle and that the key to winning elections is more efficient administration than radical politics.

The Bolivarian experiment is not without its faults and shortcomings. Within that, it is being asked to achieve great administrative efficiency, deep political mobilisation and total respect for the rights of those who would not think twice about denying those very rights (including that of life) to the Bolivarians — and all this in a decade or so and with the real threat of a malevolent United State within and outside its borders. For all its evident weaknesses, the Venezuelan revolution still is the most concrete expression in our time of Socialism with respect for political and ideological pluralism. I know Wilpert and Ellner will agree with me on that.

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1 comment:

Steve Ellner said...

I certainly do agree with your closing statement. With regard to my statement about a “natural wearing-out process,” I was not trying to make predictions regarding the results on Sunday. I usually shy away from predictions like that. What I meant to say is that Chavez has been in office for nearly 12 years and it is amazing that he has retained the popularity he has. It is natural after such an extended period of time, even in the best of circumstances, that there is an erosion of support. Naturally, few voters go from the anti-Chavez to the pro-Chavez camp. The opposite, however, is to be expected. But I would say that the most common phenomenon (demonstrated in the referendum on the constitutional reform in 2007) is that Chavistas end up abstaining. I would venture to say that the results next Sunday depend on whether the Chavistas stay home. This goes to show how incredibly unpopular the opposition is. Even many of the anti-Chavista die-hards dislike the opposition parties and their leaders. Steve Ellner