Archive for January 28th, 2012

A View Of The New Venezuelan Primary Field: From Six To Two, If Not Just One

January 28, 2012

I apologize for being absent since Monday, but things got complicated after the debate on Monday, stopping me from blogging until now. Not that I did not want to. After Leopoldo Lopez’ withdrawal and endorsement of Henrique Capriles, I actually had to, but perhaps it was better this way, as I was able to be surprised by the diverse reactions to the political maneuver, many of which were surprisingly negative.

I found Lopez’ decision to be a good political move, typical of a primary process. Lopez had clearly not gained much in the polls since joining the race, in fact some polls suggest he had lost ground and politically it was risky for him personally to perform badly, obtaining even less than ten percent of the vote. There is no question that Lopez’ legal case remains an anvil hanging from his neck. Too many people that I talked to believed it too risky for him to run and win, only to be banned from taking office. I have always disagreed with this, believing that a victory by Lopez in the Presidential race guaranteed that he would take office. Nevertheless, this fairly widespread belief, combined with Lopez’ poor campaigning in the initial stages of the race, simply did not allow him to gain ground.

Lopez could have simply stayed out, rather than join Capriles. This is something that some Lopez supporters find infuriating, they somehow find it insulting that Lopez can think that their votes can simply be endorsed to Capriles on Lopez’ say so. Of course they can’t, but that is what primaries are all about. Lopez wanted to make a statement and stay visible, but Lopez also needed a lifeline for his Voluntad Popular party, which requires funding for its candidates in the regional race and for its nationwide network. Lopez’ withdrawal would make it hard to have a continuos flow of funding that would surely go to the other candidates in the race. The move guarantees this funding.

And while it is clear after listening to so many people gripe about the endorsement that not all of Lopez’ votes will go to Capriles, it is also clear in my mind that a good fraction of them will, which added to the apparent strong support for Capriles, should push him over the very magic, and desirable, fifty percent number and seal the fate of the election.

And in that, the move is politically masterful. Two, new generation, persecuted politicians, have put the nail in the coffin of the Cuarta Republica, represented by the traditional political parties and politicians that back Un Nuevo Tiempo’s candidate Pablo Perez. Not that these parties will go away, but a loss by Perez in February, will do away with some of the encroached traditional politicians used to manipulating everything in smoke filled rooms.

In that sense, the move is not only brilliant, but if it works, it will be historical and will become when the sixth or a potential sixth, killed the fourth.

And clearly, if Leopoldo was going to support someone, it had to be Capriles, he could not back any of the others, including Maria Corina Machado, who so far has shown less progress in gaining support than Lopez, even if we don’t have any numbers after her “To Expropriate is to rob” statement. And even if she did, she still does not have a national structure to get out the vote on primary day.

Which is in a sense, Lopez’ biggest contribution to the Capriles campaign: combining both structures to insure that Pablo Perez does not win simply because Un Nuevo Tiempo and Accion Democratica managed to use their political machinery to get out of the vote. And Lopez’ Voluntad Popular has even a far wider presence (in geographical extension, not in size) than Capriles’ around the country, which in my opinion reinforces Primero Justicia’s well and contains the possibility of a Pablo Perez surprise.

Hopefully, the resentment over the move will be forgotten by the time February 12th. comes around and the other parties remain united in the Presidential race.

As to the possibility that Maria Corina Machado will mount a surprising and last minute surge, I just don’t buy it. That is simply wishful think by people who live in Caracas and who in their hearts have always viewed MCM with sympathy, but felt that she had no chance until she started confronting Chavez. I did  not see any evidence that this has changed, even if some tried to change my mind on the subject.

To me, primaries have done their job at this stage. Clearly, given the negative reactions to the news of Lopez’ endorsement of Capriles, people still have to experience a few primaries to understand why the dynamics help promote and decant the candidates, while giving them additional exposure. With Lopez’ withdrawal the field narrows and in my opinion, it just went from six to two, if not just one.