February 20, 2006

President Hugo Chavez, using the perverse logic that has characterized him
during the last seven years, proposed that if the opposition refuses to
participate in the December Presidential elections because “conditions are not
adequate”, then he would hold a referendum to allow him to be a candidate in
2013 (The Constitution only allows two six year terms) and “people could decide
I should stay as President until 2031”. This would essentially fulfill Chavez’ autocratic ambition of perpetuating himself in power.

This is a
clear example of the type of circular logic Chavez uses regularly: Conditions
for elections have been quite negative for the opposition as the Government has
controlled and absolutely controls the Electoral Board as well as the conditions for all
electoral processes. In the last four elections, the Chávez-controlled Electoral
Board has refused to manually count all the ballots at every single instance
and “graciously” allowed for an audit of 47% of the ballot boxes in the
December Parliamentary elections. But the “audit” was not live, but rather votes
were tallied manually and the Electoral Board had promised to reveal the
results of the audit five weeks after the election. It has now been twelve
weeks and we have yet to see the final results of the election, let alone that
of the audits. So much for spending US$ 200 million in “the most perfect
automatic voting system in the world”. The opposition withdrew from that
election when it was discovered a week before it was to take place that it was
possible to identify who casted each vote, despite denials in the last four
electoral processes that this was even remotely possible.

Chavez threatens to hold a referendum if electoral conditions are not agreeable
to the opposition that would perpetuate him in power a la Fidel Castro. Thus, it
is to his advantage not provide adequate conditions, which he absolutely controls,
because he can then get his wish of
becoming King or Emperor of Venezuela, which has always been his dream.

There is
one problem though with this strategy, which to me clearly indicates this is
nothing but a bluff: According
to article 71-74 of the Venezuelan Constitution
, 40% of registered voters would
have to vote in favor of such a referendum if it were a law or he would require a majority iof at least 25% of the people showing up. Given the 70% plus abstention of
the last three electoral processes, it is an extremely dangerous and risky
strategy for the President Chavez. Not only he risks not getting the required
40% or majority, but this would be one vote where opposition forces would be highly
motivated to attend, while the same can not be said of his own supporters, who are growing increasingly frustrated with the Government’s incompetence and lack of accomplishments.

Thus, if I
were an opposition candidate today I would be challenging the man who wants to
be King to actually go ahead and do it. But I would add one element to the challenge: But if
you lose, you would withdraw your candidacy from the December Presidential
election too. It would should how weak Chavez’ hand is and call his bluff.

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