As I leave Caracas, I must say I am a little more optimistic than last time. Ignoring Hugo’s illness, it is clear that twelve years of bad Government, Chavez’ limited ability to appear in public and a field of fresh new faces on the side of the opposition is increasing the likelyhood of an opposition victory, even if President Chavez fully recovers.
Numbers in polls are better than they were a few months ago. While Chavez still has a high approval rating, the same rating for the top three opposition candidates is higher than that of the President’s. In fact, Capriles’ approval rating tops 50%, while Chavez is 5 percentage points behind. In one poll, 56% of the voters don’t believe that the country they want is the same one Chavez wants
Individually, October polls indicate that Capriles holds a very strong lead that may be hard to erode by both Pablo Perez and Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez is new to the race, but the latest numbers don’t show him gaining ground after the favorable decision in his case by the CIDH. If voters don’t see him gaining ground, it is likely that they will migrate mostly to Capriles.
For Pablo Perez to have a a chance he has to get closer than he is right now in polls. Even the AD and COPEI machinery will not be able to make up the 15% difference that separates him from Henrique Capriles.
Primaries are having an impact on the overall race, candidates are in the news permanently and the faces are not only new, but the message of unity and non-confrontation seems to be having an important impact on people. Similarly, the Government’s coordination seems diminished, Government official no longer seem to have a coherent attack on the opposition, which I ascribe to Chavez’ limited ability to meet, plan strategy and appear in public.
A remote and virtual Chavez will not be the formidable opponent he once was. PSUV still has a machinery, but Chavismo without Chavez does not exist. If he does not recover sufficiently to campaign fully, this will help the opposition even more. I have learned little of his illness while here, but heard nothing to indicate he is better or out of danger.
I am less optimistic about the “day after”. While we may talk about macroeconomic, devaluation, increasing the price of gasoline and the like, those are the “easy” solutions to implement. The tough part will be how to deal with a State now in the hands of Chavista unions, most without collective agreement and demanding huge salary increases. This State now includes hundreds of state enterprises, most of them shut down or receiving huge subsidies and run by corrupt mafias who are there just earning salaries or making deals for themselves personally. I talked to at least three people in such organizations that see no way out of the conflict and problems of trying to get anything moving in these companies, where there are no bosses, no hierarchy and no clear goal of what their purpose is.
Thus, I leave optimistic on the political future, not so much on the ability of the new Government to get a large part of the Government moving. Sure there will be improvements and efficiencies, but conflicts will be the rule of the day and if the opposition were to win Chavismo will be waiting at every corner to boycott the new Government’s actions with cheap politics.
Long time readers of this blog know that every three years I go wherever the World Orchid Conference may be. This year it is in Singapore, so I am off to that part of the world for a couple of weeks. I will try not to post, not to read much about Venezuela, but you never know. If I have internet, maybe I should imitate Daniel’s posts with pictures of where I am, to see if people can guess the location.
Back in two weeks!