meeting today between Presidential candidates Teodoro Petkoff, Julio Borges
and the Governor of Zulia and likely candidate Manuel Rosales, give me a good
opportunity to comment on the developments on the potential opposition
candidates during the month that I was away.
A lot of
people I think have been over analyzing the subject of the possible primaries.
There is very little history of primaries in Venezuela and while it is true that
Hugo Chavez has the popularity and the money to win outright in the December elections,
leaving cheating and such matters outside the discussion, there is still a lot
of time to change things between now and December. In fact, at this same point in time in 1998,
Irene Saez had 45% of the preferences of voters, while Hugo Chavez had only 10%
and in 1993, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz had just won the first open primary held by a
party in the country’s history, upsetting Copei’s favorite Eduardo Fernandez,
giving him a commanding lead in the race. Two months later Rafael Caldera,
Copei’s own founder, came back to Venezuela,
announced his candidacy, was embraced by the left and an overconfident Alvarez Paz not only lost the
election, but came in third, behind Caldera and Claudio Fermin.
far, what I have seen is quite positive. Sumate comes out and proposes a
primary. Petkoff announces he is a candidate and talks about specifics. Borges
announces his program. Rosales suggests
he is ready to jump in with all his guns. People ask who anointed Sumate to do
the primary and Sumate responds that they are ready to do it only if wanted. All
three of these candidates meet and agree
that there is a need for a single candidate, ask the other two candidates to
join them and say that the single candidate may be chosen in a primary or by
whatever other method they may agree with. Thus, a positive political message
is being sent, something that has not been seen in local politics in quite a
long time. I can’t argue against that.
manipulate the process? Of course he can, but some of these guys may not be
charismatic, but they are politically savvy and can fight back. In fact, by
agreeing on three or four topics for their own proposals, they can indirectly
show the lack of accomplishments by the Chavez administration. If they can hit a
cord, a lot of damage can be done to Chavez, his autocratic style and
inefficient and corrupt administration.
There are obviously dangers, but hey, this is not soccer
or a baseball game, you have to risk something and you may be wrong in your
strategy. Some may lose and some may win. The opposition candidates need to
continue playing the positive card to contrast themselves to Chavez and his
style. What they can not do is start blasting each other each day, wearing each
other down and setting up the winner in a plate to Chavez to feast on after a
single candidate is selected. So far, indications are that at least the three
candidates that met today understand this quite well.
I disagree with arguments such as the fact that primaries
are popularity contests that select the most popular person and not necessarily
the best one. Hey! That is what democracy is! Whether people vote with their
hormones, their guts or their stomachs is a fact of daily democratic life and
you have to live with that. How do you think we got stuck with Chavez? I also
fail to see how the winner of the primary will be mince meat for Chavez. On the
contrary, the victor, if in unity, should be strengthened as it typically
happens in most democracies with primaries. And even before, the opposition
needs to get people to get excited about going out and voting. If an equal
number of people that voted in the recall against Chavze went to the primary,
it could create a very touchy and tight situation for an Hugo Chavez who at
this time looks overconfident that he will win
Then, there is the pure democratic argument that I have made for years: Venezuela needs more democracy not less. I am still amazed that all of the major five candidates for President in 1998 were all self appointed and self annointed saviors, who ran without the benefit of any collective body larger than a few dozen friends choosing them. This was a disgrace for people who call themselves democrats and simply represented the summary of the history of Venezuela’s modern democracy, something Chavez said he was going to change and included in the new Constitution but has done nothing about, like with most of his promises. In this area, he has also been more of the same, denying his own party the democratic rights that it put into the new Constitution.
I also don’t buy the argument about Chavez sending his
people out to change the primary result. First, I don’t think he has the
machinery to pull it off, witness the parliamentary election low turnout. But I
also think that by the time the event takes place, one of the candidates will
have pulled a clear and irreversible lead.
All I am saying is that so far events have developed in a
much more positive manner than I thought possible a month ago. Moreover, the
opposition candidates are receiving wide coverage. If I had to choose a candidate in
terms of ability to establish a long term sensible program for the country, I
would choose Petkoff, but my feeling is that it is Rosales that has the best
chance at beating the autocrat. Petkoff will be an uncomfortable candidate for Chavez;
Chavez can’t question his leftwing political credentials. But the Government
seems more concerned about Rosales, as demonstrated by today’s
cynical statement by the Prosecutor General that he will ask the
Supreme Court to allow him to try Rosales for going to the Presidential Palace
on April 12th. 2002, the day after Rosales expressed his clear
intent to run.
The fireworks have begun!