Brother: Can you spare some democracy?

October 3, 2004

Psychologist Axel Capriles says in today’s El Nacional that Venezuelans have no democratic culture and that forty years ago a political elite “invented” Venezuelan democracy when it defeated the military dictatorship but that there was no real conscience of democracy.

Well, I don’t know if Capriles’ generalization is correct but it is truly amazing to me that neither side, Government or opposition, is really trying to even follow what the Venezuelan Constitution so clearly states in Article 67, that candidates have to be selected by the members of political parties, implying that a primary needs to be held for all positions. But primaries are rare in Venezuela and until last week’s Tachira primary, none had been held since 1993 by any political party.


The Tachira primary was interesting and now there seems to be a new form of “Chavismo” that is fielding candidates independent of Chavez’ choices. Basically, these are pro-Chávez groups that are not supportive of MVR’s Candidates or the way they were chosen. This does not mean that they followed the Constitution either, while many claim to have chosen their candidates “from the bottom”, the mechanisms that were used are not transparent or clear, but they seem to be fighting for much needed democracy.


These parallel pro-Chávez groups have fielded more than 35 candidacies for Governor in 16 states and have their own candidates in about half the cities that are electing Mayors at the end of October. To eliminate confusion, the campaign command of Chávez’ MVR will distribute nationwide a list of Chavez approved candidates so as not to leave any doubt among its supporters of who the approved candidates are.


The opposition faces the same confusion and problem, with AD being the party that has apparently blocked the possibility for at least fielding alliances. The solution is somewhat half-assed, rather than using democracy, they are using polls to determine which candidate has more popularity, a remarkable approach in a country where most people don’t believe in polls.


To me the opposition blew an excellent opportunity to demonstrate that it had significant different beliefs than the Chavistas, but it failed to grab the moment, which as Capriles says is evidence of the absence of democratic culture. So, they have no different beliefs there when you come down to it.


Interestingly, the only party that has made a very concrete, democratic and selfish proposal has been Primero Justicia, which has offered to renounce to all of its candidacies in the interest of unity as long as a reasonably open proposal is made to select single candidates to all positions.


In the end, it comes down not only to a problem of whether we have a democratic culture or not, but also of the lack of independent powers and checks and balances. If the Attorney general, People’s Ombudsman or the Supreme Court suggested that those candidates not selected by democratic means according to the Constitution would be barred from running, then everything would be quite different. But then again, if there were independent powers, everything would be so different anyway.

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