As most of you might know, today is an election day in Venezuela, the national assembly (single chamber of the legislative power) is being elected. Or rather, was being elected, as the huge majority of important Opposition candidates have removed their names from consideration (as I hoped, and mentioned in my last post before the hiatus). However, since the Chavista spin machine is in full gear trying to get out of this one, let me present some of the facts:
- There are a LOT of political parties in Venezuela, though in any region only two tend to matter, and these would be either Chavistas or Opposing Chavez. So though there are only 167 slots, there were 5.516 candidates, of which 556, the strongest opposition candidates, have boycotted the election (though I prefer to use the phrase: "have declared themselves in strike for better electoral conditions" which would be more descriptive of the situation)
- Electoral conditions are totally non-democratic in Venezuela. Just read any of my posts with "Democracy" in their title, and you would see that the arbiter for the elections, the CNE, is one of the most partial and anti-democratic institutions in the country. If you followed any of my fellow bloggers accounts you would have seen that the CNE was caught red-handed cheating and lying in front of international observers and the press. And that this had direct implications for all elections since the RR.
- Opposition parties are following the call of the people by boycotting the election. No matter how the CPM™ tries to spin it, the huge majority of Venezuelans (including Chavistas) don't trust the CNE, and the abstention for this elections (whose results would have been 'fixed' anyway) was predicted to be 75% or more. By removing their candidates, they are just doing what the majority of Venezuelans is going to do anyway, and thus siding with the 'winners.'
- There will be a large number of coerced votes. The government has made very clear (explicitly and implicitly) that whoever does not go to vote will loose jobs, or be otherwise "disciplined." In a regime where there is already quite some history of this happening, this is not an empty threat.
Now, don't confuse this non-participation in the elections by the Opposition parties as staying away from the game, this is really a very good move inside the game. By giving a very clear message to the voter, there is no more division in the "evil" options, which were either to legitimate a clearly crooked process, or to loose what little breathing space was being left by Chavismo. The Opposition now has removed the second option from the table. Now is all up to Chávez to rally his own people to vote (and note that I say Chávez, not Chavista candidates, as these are mostly irrelevant completely interchangeable individuals).
But what I don't get, is why most of my fellow bloggers seem to agree that this is some kind of turning point for Venezuela's Democracy?, and even more, most lament the fact that the opposition decided not to run, even though the CNE made the one and only concession of removing one of the 'cheating' pieces of electoral machinery for this election (and this election only). Venezuela stopped being a democracy when the "democratic institutions" blatantly stopped following the law, when Venezuelans where left without any resource against the government. We Venezuelans in the opposition agree that Chavez and his ilk does not represent our country anymore, the problem is removing him from power, and we knew that these elections, under the current CNE and its rules, would not be a step in that direction, no matter what.
From my perspective, this is the best card the opposition  had in its hand (I would actually say the only card at this point), however it's far from being the 'check-mate' that PMB suggests. My electoral prediction for today is simple: there will be a huge true abstention (bordering 80% and maybe more). But what does that mean for the regime?, the spin is already out there: "Only 10% of the candidates joined the boycott, abstention is normal for this kind of elections, and the Opposition is using violence." Not to mention that only one of the cheat mechanisms have been removed, they can inject as many votes as they want into any part of the system they want (i.e. places that are not being audited), so abstention can be "reduced" without much problem (as it probably happened in the previous election). The main thing this does is to restitute some of the lost ground back to the Opposition parties in Venezuelan's hearts, now, by following, they can start to lead.
That would be the only point gained if it where not for the call that Súmate made to go to mass to pray for Venezuela's Democracy this Sunday morning. That not so innocent call is another good play, but it's a wild card at that. I interpret it as a show of force, to show the international media the empty voter lines and contrast them with the huge church gatherings. But if you have large masses of people in the streets, meeting in groups in a way that bypasses the special laws against public gatherings that apply on election Days in Venezuela, there is a recipe for trouble, or for truly democratic change if it is managed correctly.
Today, the future of Democracy in Venezuela is more linked to what happens around those churches than to anything that could happen in the ballot boxes. I, for no other reason than solidarity, am planning to go to church today with the faint hope that my fellow Venezuelans face no more danger than the one that I will face being in a U.S. church.
- I have decided to follow the convention that Quico started in his blog of capitalizing "Opposition" when referring to the Opposition parties, and using it in lower-caps to denote the more generalized concept of "people that do not agree with Chavez."