October 16, 2005

The mother of all own-goals

A thought experiment. (I like these.) Imagine that, magically, the current CNE board disappears tomorrow and is replaced with one of such unimpeachable honesty and utter impartiality that no question remains about the fairness of the Dec. 4th elections.

What would happen?

I think it's obvious that chavismo would win anyway, and win big. The polling data is pretty straightforward: the oppo today is down to it's 20-25% hardcore constituency. The 40% in that free-floating, politically homeless middle known as Ni-Nis are even more disdainful of the oppo leadership than they are of a government they don't much like. The stench of adeco-style reaction and batequebrado oppositionism hangs heavily over the Unity Slate the opposition has put forward for Dec. 4th. At any rate, the oppo candidates have in no way articulated any sort of rationale for people to vote for them.

When you get down to it, the whole debate about CNE is a red-herring. Chavismo would win on Dec. 4th even if the hermanitas de la caridad ran the vote.

How come?

Well, in the days following last year's Recall Referendum I expressed some guarded optimism that the cataclysm we'd been through might serve as a springboard for renewal. It might allow us to get rid of some political deadwood, it might give rise to an honest debate about what had gone wrong, why we had failed to create a discourse that could attract most Venezuelans, what we should do differently in future, etc. etc. etc.

That renewal has not materialized. The deadwood still shows up on TV screens every day to "speak for" the opposition. We still haven't gone through a serious, difficult, honest debate about how the RR campaign went off the rails so badly. We still don't have a discourse that'll enthuse most Venezuelans. And we sure aren't doing anything differently from what we did then.

And why is that?

Because that whole difficult process was shortcircuited by the opposition's insistence that we actually won the RR, and were cheated out of it. A discourse which, even if it's factually true - and having gone over the evidence in detail, I'm not convinced - has been a tactical disaster. It has demobilized antichavismo to an incredible extent. It has locked a failed leadership in place. It has excempted antichavismo, as a movement, from any sort of serious soul-searching about our shortcomings and any serious effort at improvement. It has locked our supporters into a deep dispair that serves only the government.

No electoral fraud imaginable could've done so much to solidify Chavez's position. As an own-goal, it dwarfs April 12th, Plaza Altamira and the paro combined. It is what Chavez and JVR must have dreamed of in their craziest flights of imagination: an opposition that thoroughly demotivates and demobilizes itself, on the basis of a claim nobody outside the country believes, resulting in utter paralysis and guaranteed political irrelevance.

No, my friends, Jorge Rodriguez isn't smart enough to have dreamed up a plan this cunning. A strategy this devastating is something only the opposition could've done to itself.