November 28, 2007

Working Through the Scenarios II: A Fraudulent Sí

Quico says: Here's a sphincter-clenching question for you: what's the worst thing that could happen after Sunday's Constitutional Reform Referendum?

To me, the worst case scenario is the government stealing the vote. But as I tried to think through this scenario, one thing became clear to me: fraud would be impossible to hide.

At the end of the day, each electronic voting machine will spit out an automated tally sheet, and more than half (54%) of those tally-sheets will be randomly selected to be hand checked against the machine's papertrail, on election night, by witnesses from both sides.

When you stop to think about it, that makes it virtually impossible for the government to cheat without getting caught. If there's a systematic gap between the automatic tally and the hand check, it'll be perfectly obvious to everybody. As Yon Goicoechea puts it,
We can't trust in a body as dishonest, partial and submissive to Chávez [as the National Electoral Council.] The polls suggest Chávez will lose, but we can't keep our arms crossed if we want to block a possible fraud. The electoral system is fraudulent, but fraud is identifiable. That's why we call on people to vote. To prove that your vote was stolen, you first have to vote.
If the government intends to steal the election, subtlety is not an option. They will have to pull a gorilazo, a bald faced powergrab backed by force of arms. It would look, I have to guess, something like this:
At 7:15 p.m. on Sunday, minutes after voting ends and long before the hot audits are completed, a jittery Tibisay Lucena calls an official CNE cadena. As a trickle of sweat dribbles visibly down her forehead, she announces the "Sí" has officially won the vote 53% to 47%.

Soon, reports start to surface all over the country that Plan Republica soldiers are insisting the "Hot Audits" take place behind closed doors. Globovisión starts showing pictures of crowds outside a voting center in La Candelaria chanting "queremos entrar, queremos entrar" at a bunch of stone faced soldiers blocking the doors as they hug their AK103s. The defense ministry issues no statement.

Word gets around that Tibisay Lucena is about to call a second cadena, but somehow, it never comes on the air. Your cousin calls you and tells you his neighbor's uncle is an army officer in Cumana and says they've gotten orders to mobilize all their troops to Caracas that same night.

Inevitably, in a few places, the soldiers can't or won't carry out their orders to keep people out of the audit rooms. In those places, the hot audits turn up bizarre results, with the hand count showing many fewer Sí votes than in the automated count.

Late that night, Globovisión starts showing footage of voting center witnesses who, actas in hand, swear their audit totals gave the No many more votes than the machine tallies.

Soon after, Chavez goes on TV to declare that the constitutional reform has now been approved by the sovereign Pueblo, and is therefore in force immediately. In the same cadena, he calls the unfounded rumors about dodgy hot audits part of a CIA conspiracy and says the stories about tally sheets not matching audit reports are part of a destabilization plan, reminding us that, a few days before the referendum, he had warned that the opposition was goint to cry fraud.

To counteract this "unfolding imperialist conspiracy," Chávez declares a state of emergency under the newly revised constitution's beefed up powers. Invoking his new powers to curb due process guarantees and freedom of information rights in cases of emergency, he orders the Reservistas to shut down Globovisión. He announces Habeas Corpus is suspended, jails two dozen student leaders, and places strict reporting restrictions on all remaining media outlets.

Suddenly, the country is in a renewed April 11th situation. The next day, people come out onto the streets, and are severely dealt with, except this time there's no media to cover it. Parts of the Armed Force start refusing orders, flagging themselves up as traitors. In the heat of the moment, at least one or two army garrisons rise up against the government. But they're not well coordinated, and get crushed fairly quickly. The remaining dissident officers are labeled CIA agents, jailed and villified aggressively in the official media for years to come.

By 2009, the story of the heroically foiled imperialist plot to sabotage the adoption of the people's glorious socialist constitution is part of the official school curriculum. The state of emergency declared in the early hours of the morning of Dec. 3rd, 2007, remains officially in force until the day Chávez dies, in office, naturally: March 23rd, 2049.
I don't think this is a particularly likely scenario, though these days lo más probable es que quién sabe.

In any case, given the audit procedure now in place, I'm sure of one thing: if the government cheats, it will not be able to hide it effectively. It's just ot possible.

f the No side wins, Chávez will be forced to make a choice: cheat with unprecedented brutality, or own up to defeat.