I have been meaning to address the question of whether to vote or not in
the upcoming presidential elections for quiet a while. Maybe I am still early
in addressing it, but wanted to make sure I did, because there are lots of
comments and emails on the subject.
First of all, recall that I am a firm believer that there was cheating
in the 2004 recall referendum. From a statistical point of view, it is clear
that the results were tampered with. Having said that, these studies can tell
there was cheating, but they are not capable of saying by how much. Thus, when
I say there was cheating, I can not guarantee that the opposition actually won,
although the three exit polls do suggest we did.
As a result of the frustration derived from that result, the opposition
basically demobilized itself, disappointed in the leadership from the
opposition and believing that it would be hard or next to impossible to
dislodge the autocrat. Despite this, the opposition actually voted in the
October 2004 elections in numbers that do not reflect the intuition of most
Venezuelans. Then came the 2005 parliamentary elections. A week before they
were to take place, it was discovered that despite assurances that this could not
happen, the voting machines kept the sequence of the vote, so that it would be
easy to reconstruct who voted for which candidate.
The opposition pulled out after this. While there is a generalized
perception that the conflict arose over the discovery of the possibility of the
knowing the sequence led to the opposition abstaining, it was more complicated
than that. In the end, it was the arrogant reaction of the CNE to the discovery
that really complicated matters. Jorge Rodriguez began making offers to “solve”
the problem which in the end did nothing but complicate matters. Basically, he
offered to “protect” the identity of the voters suing technological solutions
like erasing the disks that would not have erased it in the end. Between this
and the disgust at the discovery, the opposition simply pulled out, despite an
eleventh hour effort by the CNE which decided to withdraw the fingerprints
machines as a gesture to bring the opposition back. Curiously, it was Manuel
Rosales who pit the nail in the coffin, when he announced that his party was
In some sense, withdrawing from the 2005 elections has had a positive
effect. In the absence of the opposition in the Parliament, Chavistas began
fighting among themselves and whenever they grabbed the stage, they had nobody
to snap at, since they were running the whole show. Since Chavismo ahs always
appeared to be in the opposition rather than Government, this actually did not
help. As an example, whenever an investigation was carried out by the national
assembly, it was the discrepancies between the different chavistas groups which
surfaced, rather than between chavistas and the opposition.
What has changed now is that the opposition basically has had no
leadership since the recall vote or a leadership that it had little trust in.
In the absence of that Chávez was clearly in the lead and the group in between
As expected, Teodoro Petkoff was his usual bad as a candidate, while
Julio Borges could not wipe out his yuppie image (I am being benevolent in this
assessment), so it came down to the experienced politician, Manuel Rosales, who
actually jumped ahead in the polls without even bothering to declare that he
was a candidate. This stopped the possibilities of the primaries as Petkoff
never had more than 9% in any poll, while Rosales consistently got 11-15%.
Borges showed some strength until Rosales name was included with him in a short
And this was the main reason while withdrawing since June or July made
no sense. If you had no chance what was the sense of withdrawing? If the people
are not mobilized, what was the sense of withdrawing? Chavez and his supporters
would simply argue we withdraw because we do not want to lose.
Recall that Toledo in Peru went into
an election almost certain that he would be cheated if he won. He won and was
cheated, but the whole county and the international community were then
convinced that there was cheating and the rest is history as Toledo became
President of Peru exactly one year to the day, after Fujimori was sworn in as
The point is that it was actually the widespread belief that there was
fraud that eventually led to Fujimori’s demise. That is precisely what we need
to achieve, go to the election and either win, win or be cheated and fight or
simply lose. The latter is one of the possibilities and if we do lose, we will
have to accept it as a democratic outcome and bear with it.
But we can not be cheated. That is why the CNE should make the election
completely transparent. If there is so much mistrust, why not count all the
ballots, all the boxes, eliminate the fingerprint machines and audit
everything? What are they afraid of? Why not prove Chavez is sooo popular?
Easy, they are not sure, they want to have the option to twist the election at
will if necessary. And that is why we
have to go and try to win and if the election is stolen, be ready to prove it,
show it and fight for it.
If there is one thing we have learned is that we are dealing with people
with no scruples. Not even the biggest cynic in the old and now defunct Coordinadora
Democratica ever thought the 128 audits the night of the RR would not take
place, or the voting machines would transmit information before the vote was
completed, or two of the Directors of the CNE would not be allowed to go into
the computer room, or the random number generator would be an idiotic one
provided by the CNE or Carter would give his Peanut Farmer seal of approval to
the results without even inspecting anything.
Hopefully we have learned to be alert and ready for it and there will be
no surprises on Dec. 3d. Personally, I give a lot of weight to eliminating the
fingerprint machines because I truly think they instill fear in people. On
those that support Chavez because they fear that if the vote blank or for the
other candidate, they will lose their job, mission rights or they will be
retribution. On those that oppose Chavez, because they think they may lose
their jobs and be forever identified as the enemy.
I do think we have an edge. I actually believe that people are
disillusioned and tired of Chavez. There is fear, so the solution is simply not
to go vote. On the other hand those that oppose Chavez, if motivated, have
little to lose, they have been blacklisted already and they want Chavez think
we can have more abstention on the pro-Chavez side than the opposition, which
would mean that even if Chavez “has” a majority we can win.
Chavez and his cohorts face a difficult decision. If they lose, the corruption
and mismanagement will come to light and they could all be prosecuted for it.
The level of corruption is such, that they could not hide everything. And
therein lays our biggest danger. The instinct of self-preservation is simply
too strong and they will try to win no matter what
But in some sense, I feel that the best outcome is for us to win and
have the Government cheat in a very obvious way. A Government like that will
simply not last.
There is a plan. There is a very detailed plan to make sure that
everything is done. There will be at least three Rosales people per booth,
without counting those that support him that were randomly selected to run the polling
stations. That is a difference between the RR and this, in this election
candidates have rights and Rosales is getting ready for it. These three people
will make sure that the official tally and the audit tally are sent out
immediately. Any major difference would be evident. There are other plans to
monitor irregularities, get the media and minimize a possible surprise by the
people without scruples, etc.
Can they cheat? Of course, but there are plans to minimize it and if we
can get our people mobilized, we could pull a big surprise. I used to know a
well known pollster here in Venezuela;
he used to tell me not to watch the levels, to watch the trends, the slopes. He
is now dead, but he was around in the 1998 elections and when Chavez was still
in second place he told me he could not lose; he had gone from 5% to 19% too
fast. I wonder what he would say today about Rosales’ slope. After all, six
weeks ago, we could not have envisioned the Avalancha, Rosales being such a
good candidate, people being so motivated.
Thus, the question of whether to vote or not is to me irrelevant. I will
go and vote as a first step to recover the rights we have lost and mobilize
people against this autocracy once and for all. The rest, is a matter of
fighting for our rights.