Archive for November 11th, 2006

Polls, official nervousness and military signals

November 11, 2006

While I
have no idea at this time who is ahead in the polls, the publication of results
by unknown
or obscure polling firms
giving a strong lead to the autocrat, simply tells
me that someone indeed knows something I don’t and it can’t be very pretty for
the failed revolution. You see, despite all of the negative press, most well
known Venezuelan polling firms are quite good at getting the numbers right,
even if they can never get the level of abstention anywhere near the correct

This does
not mean that polling in Venezuela
is easy. On the contrary, it is quite hard for a number of reasons, including
fear, atypical educational levels across the lower social strata of the
population, differential behavior between urban and rural areas and lack of
personal safety in some areas where polling needs to be done. Add to that the
fact that abstention is likely to be quite different among pro-Chavez, anti-Chavez
and the undecided and the 2006 election is likely to be one of the most difficult
to predict with accuracy in the country’s history.

Thus, when
unknown and inexperienced pollsters like Zogby or Evans and McDonough are all of a sudden splashed all
over the news and their results reprinted in pro-Chavez ads. And when you have
to yet hear from Chavez’ traditional pollsters, you have to wonder. In fact a
look at the latter’s webpage shows few press releases in the last two years and
none of them on the electoral area.

But the signaling is all over the place, somebody is definitely very
worried, as the usual tactics than the intolerant revolutionaries had accustomed
us to, no longer seem to work to stop the opposition candidate. Only about
eight weeks ago, most of Rosales’ rallies or visits to barrios were met by your
customary band of thugs and paid muscle, intended to scare away the opposition
candidate much like the new Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN was scared away
from coming close and campaign among the poor in 2000.

Except this time it does not work. For one, it is getting hard to
volunteer the thugs and paying them daily was certainly expensive and obvious
when the same faces appeared everywhere, so that the Chavista bands became in
most cases a specter of their old self and they also had to confront
increasingly larger crowds of Rosales’ supporters that made them look somewhat
ridiculous. In addition, Rosales was not like Arias Cardenas, a newcomer to
politics, but a man with a plan and that plan included going out and getting in
touch with the people day after day, as the main strategy to gain the support
behind him. And it’s working very well.

Thus, the strategy shifted from trying to stop things from the bottom to
trying to command them from the top a la
Seniat or Ramirez in PDVSA. And the signaling is very clear, Chavismo is very
worried, they must know more than we know about the numbers, although we can
see the difference in the size of the crowds. Compare the clean, red-shirted groups
of Chavistas, limited in size, with the massive rallies that Rosales holds everywhere
and the size of criwds even in towns I did not even know existed like in this
picture in Alek’s page
, from San
Francisco, Estado Zulia.

But the strategy seems to have backfired, with polls that were giving
Chavez a lead a scant ten days ago showing him losing ground fast in response
to the widespread abuse of public workers’ rights at too many institutions by
an electorate that is already unhappy about Chavez and his revolution even if
maybe still dubious of whether or not to go and vote for Rosales.

A second strategy has been to suggest the image of a violent opposition,
as if it had any weapons or was calling for people to be armed and ready like
the Government certainly is. We hear daily warnings about how the Government
will be forceful at any attempts at unrest or protest of the results of the
elections as if it were the opposition’s fault how the vote has been set up in
order to make the process have as little transparency as possible.

If the Government wanted quick and easy acceptance of the results on Dec.
3d. it should ask the CNE to withdraw the treacherous fingerprint machines and
the counting of 100% of all of the paper ballots and not daily press
conferences threatening the opposition if they do not abide by whatever number
comes out of the CNE no matter how outrageous it may be. In fact, today
Rosales challenged
Chavez to ask for the removal of the fingerprint
machines, which are coincidentally going to be used only in eight of the top
nine states in terms of public employees in the nation.

And then we are also thrown the threat that the Armed Forces are “Rojo,
rojo…rojito” as that institution has more cracks than the earth’s mantle. But
we are supposed to believe it is united behind the revolution, when there is
clearly lots of infighting within the various forces. And we see it daily in
the many Generals that speak publicly contradicting each other. Did you know
that the Commander General of the Navy was named five months ago, but has yet t
be sworn in? Or that the General in charge of one of the largest regional
commands of the National Guard has refused to hand over the position to his successor?
Such is unity under the revolution.

And the divisions are repeated daily. Rosales asks to meet with the
Chiefs of Staff and one General accepts, but the Minister of Defense says he
will not meet with him. Another General says that the Armed Forces have to be “Roja,
roja…rojita” only to be disallowed by the same Minister of Defense. Meanwhile, nobody
knows what the Air Force Generals think, as they have few planes that fly and
are still awaiting for their new toys, while the rank and file of the Army
wonder whether the reserve created by Chavez is one day supposed to be the new country’s

And it is in fact quite scary to see those divisions and the infighting within
the military. In 1992 when Hugo Chavez staged his infamous coup, most
Venezuelans thought that the era of military coups and military men trying to
overthrow Governments was over. Chavez brought it back and while it led him to
power, it also revived the ambitions of many of his colleagues, such as the
Zen-loving Minister of Defense, who reportedly believes he could be a much
better President than the autocrat.

And maybe that is also what worries some of the leaders of the Chavez administration,
whether what is stake may be more than simply Chavez versus the opposition if
things get stirred up on Dec. 3d. While Vice-President Rangel has kept a cool
stance, others have even accused people in Government to be conspiring against Chavez.

And then of course there are the armed groups that say they refuse to
accept a defeat of Chavez on Dec. 3d., introducing a potential source of
violence and conflict after the results are out.

And therein lies the danger of suggesting erroneously that one side or
the other is winning by a landslide. We all lose in the end. In the absence of
transparency in the voting process, the losing side will refuse to believe the
outcome, whatever it may be. (Remember the Chavistas complaining about the
fingerprint machines in the special Carrizal election?) And there are signs
that even Chavez may understand this, as even he raised the possibility of his
loss the other day saying that he would hand over power if he lost. (See it, to
believe it.)

Hopefully, any potential conflict will be resolved by the politicians and
not by the military even if in this Government it is sometimes hard to differentiate
them. The alternative is to go into even more unknown territory than another
six years of the silly revolution signify.

But it’s cool to see the usual suspects squirm and worry anyway.