The day after: Analyzing the results and the political future of Vzla.

Por Venezuela Real - 3 de Diciembre, 2007, 20:10, Categoría: REFORMA CONSTITUCIONAL
December 03, 2007

I have a case of electoral hangover. It was tense last night, but the tiredness can’t be justified by the short hours of sleep, it is more associated with the tension and expectations of last night. I feel tired, but there is also certain exhilaration with the victory. Thus, it is time to take stock and look at the meaning of what happened yesterday and what may mean to the future of Venezuela:

The Results: It is my understanding that the No lead is wider than what was reported by the CNE, between 4 to 5% points. Curiously, there have been no more reports from the Electoral Board since the first one last night, once again proving what a joke the best electoral system in the world has become. A full 24 hours after the polls closed and we do not know officially even what abstention was like, other than unofficial numbers. Thus, it would seem premature to say anything about the numbers in detail. When they are available I will do that.

However, at first glance it would seem from the polls that the NO should have won by more than what was reported if abstention was truly around 44-45%. I am hearing that this was in fact the case and that as part of the agreement with the military and Chávez, the first report was supposed to show a small difference, which will widen as the remainder 10% of the vote is counted.

Behind the Scenes: Multiple reliable sources are saying that having Chávez accept the results was no easy task. In fact, a good source told me that at some point the CNE President almost announced a Si victory by a slim margin, which was stopped only because General Baduel threatened to come on stage and call the fraud if she did this. In the end the military and Baduel prevailed in defending institutionality. Baduel and the military reportedly played a key role in forcing Chavez to accept his defeat or otherwise the military will call it a coup.

Chavez in some sense acknowledge this last night, when he refereed to his “dilemma” and the fact that he no longer had one. Chavez tacitly admitted that he had known the results for three hours and that the results created a dilemma for him and that even if he tried to refer to the Electoral Board as an independent institution, in the end it was his decision. He went as far as mentioning that he even had long consultations with his Ministers and the Cabinet.

In a country with true independent institutions, whether or when to announce a result should have nothing to do with the Executive branch. The Electoral Board may have the courtesy of informing the winners and losers right before the announcement, but Chávez clearly proved why there are no independent powers in Venezuela and why institutionality is so weak: he fails to recognize where he should stop meddling and interfering with independent branches of power. It was not his dilemma, he was interfering with institutions.

It also shows why our democracy is weak. If the military has to act at each tough junction in our democratic life in order to restore institutionality, it means that our politicians do not yet understand what a functional democracy should be and act like.

This lack of institutionality extends to the CNE which acted in a very partisan way during the campaign and which last night did little to restore complete trust in its functions by unnecessarily delaying the release of the results and barring the way of the totalization room to the witnesses of the No vote. This was totally undemocratic and in violation of the law. Moreover, the long times to report suggest either they are not doing their job or the automation system is useless. In a country with true institutionality, everyone should be asking for their resignation. They performed poorly and by doing so, continued raising suspicions about their biased role in the process.

Chavez’ Speech: Not gracious at all. First of all, he should not have extended himself so much. He should have said he recognized the victory of the No and not go into more details, least of all when after one hour he said that he would keep it short. Those abroad should remember that while Chavez was speaking, all TV and radio stations were forced to carry his speech. The supporters of the NO, the winners in this race, were egoistically denied watching their own side celebrate.

Chávez also tried to turn the loss into a victory, which is valid, but certainly not very believable for a man used to winning elections handily. The voters said they did not like his proposal, the voters rejected his socialism, the voters rejected his indefinite reelection, but Chavez still said that he would not remove one comma from his proposal and there will be other times for that fight. Thus, Chavez was showing how he likes to impose his will without discussion, rather than use the tools of democracy: negotiation, discussion and concession in order to reach a consensus. He cannot accept an opinion different than his; he cannot admit different ways of accomplishing things. Despite the evidence of the No victory, he plans to continue to push his project intact, which may be his demise.

It was good of Chávez to accept his defeat. I confess I never believed he would. In fact, I still think he may surprise us in the days ahead. Recall how the days after the April 2002 events Chavez was contrite after coming back. He apologized to everyone, he spoke of a consensus, he asked for forgiveness, only to come back with vengeance to stop any investigation of what happened those days, to destroy PDVSA and its workers and return back to his Cabinet the same political operators that were with him during the days leading up to the tragedy of April 2002.

Thus, as Baduel suggested last night, Chávez is likely to push the whole agenda of Constitutional reform using other means. In fact, as was discussed numerous times, most of the things in the Constitutional reform proposal did not need to be there. Many were somewhat irrelevant except to have Chavez have more control of the institutions, but economically and socially he still has an Enabling Bill to pass many of the proposals rejected by the voters via decrees, which require no approval or even being known by the people.

Clearly, Chavez did not see last night’s votes as a rejection of what he proposes but a temporary setback for his plans. That is bad news, as he will certainly will try to press it forward again in the future.

Why the No won: There were numerous factors. First, the proposal was not only clearly illegal but became more and more complex and questionable as time went on. Voters had rejected the indefinite reelection from day one, but other parts of their proposal were attractive to some sectors because of their populist content. However, the administration always seemed to be in a rush and as more components were added, the sense that Chavez and the Assembly wanted to push it through without discussion became dominant. To many, the proposal was long, complex, and unnecessary and in the end raised more doubts than it created answers.

The students played a key role in the process. The student movement got involved at levels orders of magnitude above what they had done in the last nine years on concerns over the future of their autonomous universities and the cancellation of the concession for RCTV. The students were well organized, had a wide reach and had a message of conciliation, which was truly important. Even more importantly, they have families and Chavez did nothing but insult their kids.

The state of the economy also played a key role. There have been shortages since June, which have only accentuated in the last few months. Despite claims by the Government that milk supplies will be normalized shortly, to this date it has simply not happened. Add to that the periodic disappearance of various items; some of them permanently, other sporadically and there is a widespread belief that something is not right with the Government.

Inflation has also played an important role. While Government ministers continued to say the new financial transaction tax would have no effect on inflation, the CPI reached a whopping 4.4% level for the month prior to the election, with food inflation topping 7% for the month of November alone! Chavez should fire the genius that came up with the idea of this tax immediately before the referendum. So should be those in the economic team that have managed to screw things up so badly.

In the end Chávez has two problems in terms of managing the economy: Management and Ideology. Management because his team is always picked on the basis of absolute loyalty to the revolution and not ability or even knowledge. Ideology, because his infinite belief in an incompetent and corrupt public sector, combined with scaring away investment while trying to increase the supply of goods are simply incompatible. Thus, the Government continues direct assistance programs, which create demand, but supply can only be satisfied via imports. The day oil drops, even by a small margin, the whole system will simply collapse.
The opposition political parties played a significant role only in that once they felt the tide created by the students, they fell in step with them, letting them take the lead and joining them. In the end, only Escarrá did not publicly call to go out and vote, about all other political groups calling for people to go vote NO, creating more momentum than expected for the No.

Podemos, Baduel and Chavez’ former wife also played a significant role, particularly in giving credibility and validity to voting against Chavez even if you were Chavista. Baduel seems to have player a larger role within the military, Podemos in driving out the vote and Mrs. Rodriguez playing the role of victim In the end going forward, it is Baduel who clearly seems to have the larger role. He played it right and won.

The implications of the victory: First of all it was a great victory, this can never be minimized, no matter how rough things may be going forward. There are many edges to the victory. First, it was a victory for institutionality even if it was rocky at some points. This is the main victory achieved yesterday, as the loss will impose a limit in what Chavez can and not do going forward, even if he tries.

Second, there is an important victory in knowing that it is possible to defeat Chavez. That is very important, as up to now Chavez has had an image of invincibility whether by honest vote or not, that has now been destroyed with the victory of the NO. Chávez tried to turn the referendum on the reform into plebiscite on his rule, he lost it. This is very significant. With 44% abstention, 28% of the population voted for the SI, 28% of the population voted for Chavez, that is precisely the number of hardcore Chavismo in polls. 72% of Venezuelans did not support Chavez or his reform.

The implications of this are very significant. For the opposition, it will mean that abstention and participation will be much more important in the future. People will no longer say they are not participating because Chavez will cheat or it is hopeless. This will become a significant difference in the future (Even if there was cheating in the end!)

For Chavismo the victory of the NO is also very significant. To begin with, it is no longer taboo to go against Chavez. You may go do it and if the Government does not create a new Tascon/Chavez list, it may encourage others in the future to go and vote against the President.

But more importantly, to those that hold important positions within Chavismo, there is also an important message implied: Chavez is not there forever and if one day Chavismo has to leave Government they may be called to account for themselves and their actions and decisions in power (As well as their wealth!)

But even more significantly, Chavez has been weakened by the loss. It is my belief that in the upcoming days Chavez will continue to press his agenda forward as he stated it yesterday. Some of his supporters at high level will follow him, other will not. This may create a deep division within Chavismo, as those that have their own personal ambitions and understand that Chavez lost with his proposal, will decide to split from his side and start their own movements. In the end, the balance of how many are left on his side will decide how strong he is in the end.

Chavez could only gain strength by doing exactly what I don’t expect him to do: Reach out to all Venezuelans to establish a common agenda. That is not his style, as he has proven over and over and proved once again last night saying that his proposal had not been approved “For now”, trying to relive events and a phrase relevant in a different context, which happened long ago and which, while relevant to him personally, are not considered by most Venezuelans to be part of their history, least of all to the students protesting in the streets who were still young kids when Chavez staged his bloody coup in 1992.

To these students, it is the reality of what is happening today that matters and as Baduel said in his Op-Ed Saturday:

“Venezuelan society faces a broad array of problems that have not been addressed in the eight years Mr. Chávez has been in office, even though the present Constitution offers ample room for any decent, honest government to do so. Inflation, threats to personal safety, a scarcity of basic supplies, a housing shortage and dismal education and health care are problems that will not be resolved by approving this so-called reform.”

That is reality also for the students and their families and not a now irrelevant fight between Chavez and Carlos Andres Perez or Accion Democrática.

Baduel is calling for a Constituent Assembly in the belief that the results of the referendum require a new National Assembly in which all parts are represented. Others believe this is unnecessary and that Chavez can be recalled under the 1999 Constitution in 2009. Chavez will likely try to press his socialist agenda, very similar to the proposed reform, but via the enabling Bill as he can’t introduce another Constitutional reform. The latter will in the end determine how the future of Venezuelan politics develops. Given the deterioration of the economy, Chavez may be playing a losers game, as dissatisfaction by the voters will only grow in the upcoming months and his popular support as well as that of those that surround him, may vanish, leaving him almost alone, holding a losing hand.

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