After the October 7th elections, Venezuelan blogger and journalist Luigino Bracci published this piece on the significance of electoral trends and how support for the opposition has grown faster than support for Chavez in recent years. He offers some possible reasons why this has ocurred, and argues that if current trends continue the opposition will win the presidency in 2018.
Those of us who believe in the revolutionary process led by President Hugo Chavez are filled with an indescribable happiness. At the time of writing, 97.65 percent of the votes have been counted.
· 8,062,056 votes (55.14%) have been counted in favor of President Chavez. We can presume that votes in his favor will end up at around 8.2 million.
· The opposition managed to reach a very respectable sum of 6,468,450 (44.24%) votes, a number that will probably end up at around 6.5 million.
As Fidel Castro would say, “In Venezuela there are not 6.5 million oligarchs.” Yes, we revolutionaries are happy, but we must compare the numbers with the 2006 presidential elections in order to begin analyzing what is required to improve the process led by Hugo Chavez.
· In 2006 there were 15,784,777 voters registered in the electoral system. Of those, 11,790,397 voted. 7,309,080 voted for Hugo Chavez and 4,292,466 voted for opposition candidate Manuel Rosales.
· In 2012, there were 18,903,937 voters registered in the electoral system. The total number of voters as of now has been 14,901,740 (80.72% participation).
· In the last six years the electorate grew by 3,119,160 people (19.76 percent) and total participation grew by 3,111,343 (26.38 percent). Therefore, we would have expected support for both Chavismo and the opposition to grow by about 26 percent since 2006.
Now for the unpleasant numbers. Between 2006 and 2012:
· We socialists grew by 752,976 votes, or 10.3 percent. Much lower than expected.
· The opposition grew by 2,175,984 votes, or 50.69 percent. Much higher than expected.
To be clear, the comparisons should be made between presidential elections, and not other electoral processes such as the referendum, the constitutional reform, or legislative elections. These are completely different elections, and many people aligned with Chavez abstain from voting in these elections, or even vote against the party.
Now, even if there is no reason to take anything away from Chavez’s victory (we are talking about an advantage of 1.6 million votes, or 10 percentage points), we revolutionaries have to ask ourselves: Why did the opposition grow so much in this election, while Chavismo grew much less?
I don’t have the answers, but I will offer some pointers. The intention of this article is to start a debate on the topic, so that everyone can speak out about the things that are happening in this process, and so that we can work like never before to improve it. Because if the trend continues, in six years we will deeply regret not having done something.
Our government is led by an untiring workhorse; a continental leader that has already become a permanent part of Latin American history. He has made it a huge priority to solve social problems. He has provided free university education to millions of young people, while in neighboring countries like Colombia and Chile they are trying to privatize education. He has incorporated millions to the pension system, keeping pensions tied to the minimum wage, while in other countries they are raising the age to qualify for retirement, and in some cases eliminating pensions for workers. There are many achievements in terms of infrastructure. There is a system of primary healthcare. There are food programs like Pdval and Mercal. There are educational achievements such as the Canaimitas [free laptop computers for elementary students]. There is no doubt that there are accomplishments.
But there are also difficult problems to resolve. Each region has its own problems, and we have to analyze them separately, including special cases like the state of Merida where Chavez won comfortably in 2006 with 29,337 votes, but which we are now losing by 14 thousand votes. There are regions in where the Chavista governors and mayors have done a horrible job, tarnishing President Chavez and our process.
The PSUV has its share of the responsibility. Even President Chavez has at times insisted on supporting certain candidates that his own supporters see very negatively. We cannot deny the immense work that the electoral machinery of the PSUV does, without which we would lose many elections. But, on the other hand, many of these unpopular governors and mayors that harm the process were reappointed by the PSUV leadership, with tragic consequences. The party has chosen cooptation (appointing regional candidates from above), claiming that “the excess of elections is harmful” because it creates internal confrontations and “injuries” among comrades. This allowed for the strengthening of certain groups within the party, and limited the possibility for the grassroots to control the direction of the party. Many people left the party and dedicated themselves to working with grassroots movements, leaving the PSUV to be dominated by certain groups, and over the long term this created the need for the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) [a coalition of pro-Chavez parties and organizations created in the lead up to the Oct. 7 elections], as a way to keep all the movements united. But they don’t label the candidates as GPP. They label them as PSUV candidates.
Another issue to debate is the political campaign. Many people warned that the daily campaign of showing surveys that said Chavez would win by 15 or 20 points was not beneficial, and made many people feel confident enough to not vote. It seems there was a huge excess of triumphalism among many on our side. The opposition also carried out a very costly campaign, using robots from the United States and Colombia to make hundreds of thousands of telephone calls per day, in addition to text messages and internet publicity. Part of the campaign was dirty: there were hundreds of thousands of calls to homes in the early hours of the morning using the voice of Chavez as a way to create discontent.
In 2006, many young voters among the opposition abstained from voting for Manuel Rosales as they were discouraged by the image conveyed by this political leader from the past. In 2012, on the other hand, these young voters must have decided to vote for Capriles, who conveys a supposed image of “modernity” and “youth.” We will have to be aware of this in future electoral processes when Leopoldo Lopez is no longer disqualified and can run for office.
The problems with electricity that are being experienced in many states in the country are important to consider. In many places daily power failures are the norm, and that is unacceptable in a country like ours with so many natural resources. Perhaps many of us are militant leftists and we will vote for Chavez even if we suffer from 5 power failures a day, but we have to understand that a large part of the population does not see it that way. The problems in the state electricity company Corpoelec, whatever their cause, must be solved immediately!
Crime is a problem that does not have a simple solution. A new generation of police officers is being formed, while at the same time we are trying to disarm the general population. We are beginning to see a decline in crime in certain sectors of our cities, but many popular sectors continue to be under the control of criminal groups, often backed by ex-paramilitaries from Colombia. Many crimes are not being solved, seemingly because of an insufficient number of investigators, and impunity only raises the crime rate. Many of our laws make it difficult to punish offenders, while many innocent people spend years in jail waiting on the justice system. Our jails continue to be places where instead of being reformed, criminals become even more violent. There are not enough jails, they are over-packed, and many are under the control of criminal bands who traffic drugs and arms. It is easy to criticize from the comfort of one’s computer, but if we believe in human rights how can we defend this? No doubt, the solution is not quick or easy.
Some of us also perceive that when Chavismo loses in certain states those states are then “punished.” Public works slow down or are paralyzed.This has happened in Miranda, Carabobo, Tachira, Zulia and other states, with emblematic public works such as the Guarenas-Guatire metro system, the second bridge over lake Maracaibo, the cable train, line number 5 of the metro and others. Someone must think that slowing down public works is going to make people vote for Chavismo in the following elections, but the opposite happens: people get even more disappointed and the opposition uses this as a sign of the inefficiencies of the government and as an argument in favor of decentralization.
One could argue that the rightwing media is very efficient in creating discontent among the population. But here there are also things to analyze. In terms of the media, the revolution is not the same defenseless little girl that it was during the coup of April 2002 when it only had one television channel. Today the state channel VTV is one of the best-equipped channels in Latin America, with multimillion-dollar investments in technology and personnel, not to mention that we also now have Telesur, Vive TV, Tves, Avila TV, Columbeia, RNV, YVKE Mundia, Radio del Sur, Alba Ciudad and many other media allies, including community media, alternative media and internet sites. We now have the movie producer Villa del Cine and a movie distributor. Although the majority of the media is still private, the problem is no longer the “quantity” of revolutionary media, but rather the fact that, for various reasons, our media does not reach the people.
Globovision, on the other hand, is very overestimated: this channel does not broadcast nationally, and its efforts to center on the upper classes make it fairly unattractive to the masses who do not see themselves reflected in the channel’s pale skin and blonde hair. Venevision and Televen have preferred to focus on their programming and entertainment, putting them higher in the ratings. But these channels who now disguise themselves as apolitical and “balanced” have silently destroyed any attempt on our part to bring socialist ideology and ethics to the general population. Other media that before were fervently anti-Chavez, likeUnion Radio, FM Center or Noticias 24, have followed a similar path, in part in order to take advantage of political advertising from the government.
Another issue is that the numbers seem to indicate that Chavismo is not reaching as many young people as we would have hoped. Do young people see the revolution as something that is boring, monotonous and out of style? Do they see us Chavistas as a bunch of fanatics that all dress and talk alike, who despise everything that is “cool” and “in style”, but who say one thing and do another? We have to rectify many things if we hope to reach them, but also without abandoning our principles. The work of movements like “Chavez es otro beta”,“Ola Bolivariana”, “Causa Venezuela” and others that have tried to reach young people have been very good, and without a doubt they should be expanded and adapted to different regions. It is also important to promote new young leaders inside the process, in particular those who are authentic and admired.
Government politics have often centered around the message that socialism is about handing out free or cheap things. But in reality we are talking about a political and economic system that requires the participation of everyone. It seems like we often forget to tell the people that they also have to participate actively in socialism. In other words, constant personal improvement is also important.
To give an example: the majority of the people who use the Caracas-Valles del Tuytrain are sympathetic to the process of change. They are our comrades, PSUV activists and Chavistas. But the way many of them behave in rush hour when they take the train leaves much to be desired. They cut in line. They don’t give up their seat to the elderly, pregnant women, or disabled people. Capitalism taught them to be aggressive, even with the weakest (survival of the fittest). Young people often insult those who demand their right to sit down. “Who told you to get pregnant?” or “Shut up old man!”, are some of the responses that are often heard on the train, which often must have police officers from the Bolivarian National Police intervene.
Obviously I do not want to generalize, as many people all over the country are struggling to maintain exemplary revolutionary ethic, but what I want to highlight with this example is that our media are constantly used as news channels for the government, or to confront the rightwing media, but we neglect ideology and revolutionary ethics which should be a permanent campaign. We block self-criticism and the social control of our media. Discussion and debate are prohibited, and many times there is only one way to do things: the one that the government is endorsing.
In conclusion, this article is simply intended to start the debate and sound the alarms, just like President Chavez has done by promising that this will be his best administration yet, that he will work harder than ever, and that he plans to create follow-up mechanisms to avoid public works and directives that he has approved from being obstructed. Without a doubt there are many things to be discussed.
Mathematically speaking, if the opposition and Chavismo maintain the same rate of growth, in 2018 the numbers will be the following:
· Opposition: 9,747,508 votes
· Chavismo: 8,892,603 votes
They will beat us by 854,860 votes.
Let’s fight so that these numbers never become reality!