There are many fascinating elements that can be derived from last Sunday’s Parliamentary elections. And there are lessons for both sides, which should be absorbed and digested accordingly. Since many of them are unrelated, I will make a list of some interesting ones:
-The magnitude of fraud that can be accomplished via the voting machines is by now limited
In 2004, the Government manipulated the vote in various ways. The two most important factors were the votes “added” in the absence of opposition voters and the use of multiple ID’s to vote. My estimate based on the many technical papers that were published is that that fraud could not amount to more than 5%, which implied that the opposition lost the recall vote at the time, albeit by a much smaller margin.
In time, the opposition has learned to plug up many of these holes.There have been two strategies: One, to have witnesses at as many polling stations as possible. In the recent election, the opposition obtain credentials for witnesses which exceeded those of Chavismo by 2,000 people. Moreover, there were numerous reports that Chavista witnesses did not show up and were replaced by opposition volunteers.
Secondly and more importantly, special attention was paid to the audit process in polling stations where the opposition has little presence and where important candidacies would be decided. Around 100,000 volunteers showed up at closing time, not only to be present for the audit, but also to demand its closure if there were no voters in line. One of the engineers involved in this project estimates that 46 of the 51 Deputies they targeted for election were successful in part due to this effort.
Both of these efforts increased the percentage of paper “Actas” or tallies the opposition had, which allowed it to win the 112th. Deputy by having copies of all tallies in Circuit 3 of Aragua which was won by a scant 83 votes. Chavismo “claimed” up to the last minute there were additional actas, which simply did not exist.
-The vote is indeed secret
While there was a time that Government workers feared that the CNE could tell how you voted, with more and more elections people have learned that they can vote for the opposition and nothing happens to them. Chavismo helped made this clear when bosses in various Government offices began asking their workers to bring a photograph of their ballot, which confirmed their suspicion they could not tell how you voted. Numerous people in offices, using social media and the like made offers to “photoshop” voting ballots to give the boss the correct picture. Additionally, the opposition made a campaign to emphasize that taking pictures of your ballot is illegal. The threats by Government officials were thus significantly reduced and the fact that there is no persecution now, is proving to people that they simply can’t know
-Chavismo is still a force, but lost a lot of ground
Many people have been shocked by the fact that despite inflation, lines, corruption and scarcity, slightly more than 40% of the Venezuelan voters cast it in favor of Chavismo. This is indeed a large number, but it is magnified by abstention. There were essentially two numbers that pollsters had a difficult time being precise about: How many people would abstain and how many of the pro-Chavez voters would cast their vote for mostly unknown opposition candidates. The two questions are inter-twinned, logic says in a highly Chavista state, smaller abstention means that more Chavistas will cast their vote. It also says that in a highly opposition state, the smaller the abstention, the more the votes for the opposition.
However, in reality what happened was that the opposition did well in Chavista states because people wanted to express their disenchantment with Chavismo and in many pro-opposition states, abstention was high, suggesting that Chavistas simply decided not to go out and vote for the opposition.
It is not easy to generalize, but let’s look first at the overall numbers. Pollsters were expecting abstention to be much like that of the 2010 Parliamentary election, which was 33.6%, but it turned out to be much lower coming in at 25.8%. Thus, 74.2% of the voters cast their vote nationwide.
But let’s take Miranda Circuit 2, where I vote, a strongly opposition area. Only 66.4% of the voters cast their vote there and Freddy Guevara won handily, despite the low turnout. But, in general, in Chavista states where the opposition did well, abstention was on average lower than 25% (except in Bolivar), while in most Chavista States where it did not do well abstention was higher than 30% (Except Portuguesa and Yaracuy). Thus, the opposition tended to do better than expected in Chavista states with large urban populations (Bolivar, Anzoategui, Vargas and less well in the very rural states (see previous post)
And to me it suggests that those that abstained tended to be more pro-Chavez voters, who disapprove of Maduro but could not set their hearts in voting for an opposition candidate. Thus, in the end, Chavismo got 40-plus percent of the vote, but of those that did not vote, a larger fraction were in the camp that is pro-Chavez, but disapproves of the job Maduro is doing.
-Violence was, once again, not a factor.
Every election since I was young (Yes, that long!) I have heard the fears of widespread violence breaking out. It has never materialized. People waited peacefully for the results. People received the results peacefully. Yes, there were some attempts at violence as the polls closed, but they were quickly dissipated.
-A recall vote would not be a slam dunk
Many people think a recall referendum should be a priority for the incoming National Assembly. Such a referendum is possible starting either immediately or in April 2016, depending on the TSJ. Up to April 2017 a recall vote would be followed by a Presidential election. After that the Vice-President would take over for the President and complete his or her term.
There are two conditions for a recall to be successful: One, that you get 50% of the vote. Two, that you get more than 50% than the person obtained when he was first elected. Well, we got 7.726 million votes on Dec. 6th., but Maduro got 7.587 million votes in 2013. This means only 139 thousand votes, a bit too close for (my) comfort.
There may be other routes that achieve the same purpose.
-So far, the military has been institutional
Yes, I qualified it with a so far, because I just don’t know how close (or how far) we were from an attempt not to recognize the results. The same way that I don’t know whether something is or not cooking at this time. But in most polling stations where the military vote, the opposition turned out to be victorious. Por ahora (For now), the military has decided to be institutional.
That is definitely good news!
I will close here, probably too long to keep your interest. I will post in the next few days about what I expect, hope and can predict about the next couple of months in Venezuela.