December 1, 2005

The Mariches Effect

by Diego Bautista Urbaneja
translated by me

It's as though a fragile equilibrium was broken. Until last Friday, the arguments for and against voting on December 4th just about balanced each other off. Some were going to vote and some were going to abstain. I don't know in what proportion. What's for sure is that the government was on the brink of achieving its goal, that is, for not everyone to vote and not everyone to abstain. That way, they would win without having to steal the election, with manageable turnout figures that could, if needed, be manipulated. CNE was ladeling out "concessions" to the opposition adequately, alongside arbitary moves and causes for mistrust, keeping the oppoosition split and allowing the government to achieve its goal without real problems. What was going to happen was not, incidentally, anyone's fault, it was just a function of the way that various opposition groups debated with one another about how they should react faced with parliamentary elections under the conditions created by CNE.

MARICHES. That "equilibrium" was broken in the now famous voting simulation in Fila de Mariches, where it was shown that the voting machines do store the sequence of votes allowing CNE to infer how each person voted, and violating the principle of the secret vote. This created a new situation.

The doubts, which for part of the electorate had been subsiding through the improved conditions that had been "achieved" (we need to keep this kind of question between quotation marks) and the arguments in favor of voting, shot up virulently. The balance of positions we talked about went up in smoke, and a psychological avalanche was unleashed in favor of abstentionism.

After Mariches, it was no longer possible to ask the voter to go to the polls, unless new conditions were met by CNE. The opposition had to ask for changes in electoral conditions, and it was in a strong position to do so.

CNE's decision to do away with the finger-print scanners, which re-established the secrecy of the vote, could have meant a significant increase in the credibility of elections. It could have translated into an unexpected increase in the number of voters.

CNE's strategy might have been broken in one of two ways: through mass abstention or mass voting. What happened in Mariches opened the doors to the first of these scenarios, a price CNE could not afford to pay. This is why they did away with the finger-print scanners. But they stopped there, making it their final "concession", to see if they could keep the opposition divided. And indeed, limited though it was, doing away with the finger-print scanners might have opened the doors to the other option: mass voting.

But it didn't work out that way. Right now, CNE is paying the price for its cynicism. Many will feel emotionally satisfied. They will feel that, for once, CNE didn't get away with it, though we do not know the price we shall have to pay for it.

But we made the wrong move. The right move would have been to take advantage of the withdrawal of the finger-print scanners to call for mass voting, breaking the government's divisionist strategy, and forcing it to either lose or try to steal the election. This didn't happen. On Monday the fifth we'll have to face the results of what we've done.