Most people in Venezuela are not taking it very seriously
when the Chavez administration threatens to either disqualify or jail Zulia
Governor and opposition leader Manuel Rosales, who is running for Mayor of
Zulia State. The arguments are the
same we hear with the other political disqualifications or the cancellation of
RCTV’s license: That Chavez would not dare due it because of the repercussions.
People are once again being naive.
Because in the end Chavez did not care about anything but
his preservation in power and if he bans or jails Rosales it is because this
fits his grand scheme of things.
And in this grand scheme, it is clear that polarizing the
voters is important, not only as we go into the regional elections, but as
Chavez seeks the legal means to change the Constitution so that he can remain
in power beyond 2013.
Which is what his active participation in the campaign for
the regional elections is all about.
In the end what is important for the autocrat is that his
PSUV score enough of a victory in November so that Chavez can press his
personal agenda to remain in power forever.
And there is no doubt he can do it. His popularity right now could be
sufficient to carry him in a Constitutional referendum in 2009, even if he can
not use it now to score a huge victory in this month’s regional elections.
Which by the way is absolutely illegal, since the
Constitution does not allow the same question to be brought up during the same
Constitutional period. But they will have the question brought up to referendum
in a different way and argue that this simple fact makes it legal and the
Venezuelan Supreme Court will agree with it.
So, in the end, banning Rosales from office, jailing him
will be about erasing him as the closest thing the opposition has to a leader
when and if this Constitutional referendum takes place in 2009. And when the
Comptroller says that Rosales could be banned for fifteen years from running
for office, it means that even if the charges have not been formally
investigated, the case has been studied and they have even formed an opinion as
to what the penalty will be, much like on the cases of Enrique Mendoza and
Leopoldo Lopez. Thus, with a single stroke Chavez would eliminate from office
the last nationally known opposition leader who could become the leader of a
push against the approval of the referendum next year.
That is why Chavez is fighting for the regional elections
with all his might, polarizing and radicalizing the electorate. He knows that
the opposition will do well in the most populous states of the country, but he
has to limit the victories as much as possible because otherwise he will not be
able to obtain a victory next year.
While I leave the electoral predictions to Daniel, even if Chavez is
popular today, he will not be able to pass on this popularity to his candidates
in three weeks. And he knows it and we see it in his daily campaign in the
states that are key for power in Venezuela, which are the most populous states
like Zulia, Miranda, Carabobo, Lara, Tachira, Anzoategui, Bolivar and Aragua.
Of these, all but Zulia are today in the hands of Chavismo and it is likely
that more than half will fall into the oppositions hands in three weeks.
Even three weeks before the election the results are not
written in stone. Acosta Carles could withdraw in Carabobo making Chavismo a
little stronger in Carabobo, or Manuel Rosales could be jailed throwing Perez’
and his campaign in disarray in Zulia.
Sound crazy? So did all of the other candidate bans, the
shutdown of RCTV and the like. Not all of these actually helped Chavez, but
when first suggested they appeared to be strategies that sound as crazy as
erasing Manuel Rosales from the Venezuelan political arena today.