The opposition and the Chavistas got into a stupid pissing match today, much like little kids trying to fight over determining who had handed in the petition earlier in the morning. Essentially, both sides tried to beat the other to the punch, the opposition with the request for the recall referendum of President Chávez and the Chavistas with the request for the recall referenda of a fairly sizable number of opposition Governors, Mayors and National Assembly Deputies.
Who got there first was beside the point as a difference of hours within the same day would not impact whether a referendum takes place first or not. Despite this, while the Chavistas were holding a press conference in front of the CNE Headquarters, the opposition was sneaking in and handing in their request behind the scenes which outraged the Chavistas and led to a full day of childish accusations by both sides.
But lost in the shuffle was the question of why the Chavistas even bothered to do what they did. First of all, there will be regional elections for Governors and Mayors in June 2004. Thus, if anyone’s mandate is revoked next February or March, all it means is that he or she will be replaced by his second in command for the two months remaining in the term. In contrast, if Hugo Chavez is recalled, an election to replace him will be held thirty days after the referendum. Second, by submitting their request, the Chavistas were tacitly accepting the new regulations issued by the CNE and any challenge of its contents and detail would seem fake, given their request today. Finally, the Chavistas know that very few of those that they are asking to be revoked would be recalled today. Thus, by requesting the recall at the same them with the opposition they are asking for trouble as opposition supporters would show up to vote, if all referenda are held on the same day, assuring a resounding Chavista defeat. Moreover, if the CNE were to schedule the petition drive for the same days, the Chavistas would not be able to distinguish between one side and the other and the threat of possible intimidation by pro-Chavez “Bolivarian Circles” simply disappears.
If it is so negative what then led the Chavistas to do what they did? There are two strong reasons I can think of: By holding their petition drive on the same day as the opposition, the opposition will not be able to say that the success of their drive was a recall referendum in itself, as the Chavisats will argue that people came out to sign for their petition. A second reason would be that by having all these petition drives on the same day, this will introduce confusion in the population and will overload the CNE with work.
Somehow, I get the feeling the Chavistas have lost sight of an important fact: The recall drive is just that, it is not an election in itself. What really matters is what happens the day of the referenda itself. If I were the opposition I would help the Chavistas to get their petition signatures complete, so that all their referenda are approved and held on the same day. Then, on that day, I would get all opposition voters out and vote against all of the referenda and recall Chavez at the same time. Then, the referendum against Chavez would become the mother of all defeats.
(By the way, lawyers said the Chavista request was illegal as they did a collective request which contradicts the regulatons)